Interest in solar power really began to take off during the first oil shock in the late 70s as forward-thinking people saw the writing on the wall and began thinking about the finite nature of fossil fuels. Over the last few years, solar energy has experienced an uptick in popularity because of higher gas and oil prices and the desire to halt global climate change. Indeed, the Solar Energy Industries Association notes that residential solar power system installations increased greatly during 2010 -more than doubling those of 2009 – and 2011 showed a first quarter increase of 66% over 2010. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that there have been large increases over the past couple of years in the number of solar panel manufacturers and those that produce solar hot water systems.
Residential Solar Power Costs
A benefit of the solar energy industry explosion is that prices are coming down, making solar power much more affordable. Also, the federal government has extended tax credits and many states are offering their own incentives, reducing the payback time substantially. Even some large cities are offering breaks, such as rebates being offered by the city of Boston, MA. For homeowners opting for a grid-tied system, the ability to sell their excess power to their local utility is a big plus that promises to save them even more money.
Styles of Residential Solar Power Systems
The three main types of solar power systems are passive, active and thermal. Passive is built in to the style of a home – such as large, south-facing windows – rather than a system with fans and other moving parts. Generally, the large southern windows gather the sun's warmth and small windows on the north side reduce exposure to the cooler side of the house. There are two types of solar applications within the active category: thermal, which is usually used to heat hot water or cool the home and photovoltaic, which actually uses sunlight shining on solar electric panels to create electricity. Residential solar power runs the gamut form do-it-yourself kits that power a few lightbulbs to large arrays that can produce enough electricity to run an entire household.
A solar installation can either be off-grid, useful for those living in remote areas, or grid-tied systems. The latter is most popular, since most people live in neighborhood settings serviced by a local utlity. Again, many like the idea of selling their "extra" energy to the electric company
Solar Power: Not Just a West Coast Phenomenon Anymore
Between government credits, utility rebates, plunging prices and improvements in solar technology, residential solar power is gaining ground every day in areas not previously associated with sunny climes. Almost any area can benefit from solar energy applications of one type or another, and the northeastern part of the U.S. is starting to feel its solar oats. As the technology improves and prices continue to come down to more affordable levels, residential solar installations will become more commonplace and thus more mainstream.