Across the globe, millions of people power their homes and heat their water with clean, abundant, renewable energy from the sun. Solar energy systems have been around for decades. But in the United States, their acceptance has been slow because of their high upfront cost.
Attitudes are changing, however. With concern mounting about carbon dioxide emissions, rising energy costs, and dependence on imported oil, having a power plant on the roof sounds awfully attractive. In fact, after tuning up your house to make it as energy efficient as possible, installing a solar energy system is one of the most powerful steps you can take to green your home.
Residential solar energy systems fall into two categories: solar electric systems and solar hot water systems.
Not every household can benefit from a PV or solar hot water system. If your electricity or water heating costs are extremely low, or if you have too much shade on your roof or property, a solar energy system may not make sense.
But for many people, the energy savings from a PV or solar hot water system will eventually save money, after you’ve recouped the system’s initial cost. In addition, the system can lock in your energy costs, giving you a hedge against future energy price increases.
Although most solar homes still use some fossil-fuel energy, it is possible to meet your home’s entire energy needs with solar electric and solar hot water systems. And as plug-in hybrids and electric cars become more available, someday you may be able to run your car on the sun’s energy.
Solar energy systems may even increase the value of your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a solar energy system may add $10 to $20 to your home’s worth for every dollar in energy costs saved in one year. For example, a system that reduces energy costs by $500 per year might add $5,000 to $10,000 to the home’s value. An added bonus: solar panels can help extend your roof’s life by protecting it from ultraviolet rays and weather.
A residential solar electric or solar hot water system can also be a wise investment in the country’s future and the planet’s health. By supporting solar energy technologies, you are helping to
If you’re worried that the push for solar power will wind up blanketing the Earth with solar hardware, relax. In the United States, cities and buildings cover about 140 million acres of land. We could meet all our current electricity needs simply by putting PV systems on 7% of that area, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
While it’s true that energy and other resources like heavy metals are used to manufacture a PV system, after about three years the clean energy produced and the emissions reduced by the system more than make up for that initial expenditure. Compared with conventional power plants, PV systems reduce greenhouse gas and heavy metal emissions by at least 89%.
To learn more about residential solar energy systems, check out these other Sierra Club Green Home articles:
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