So you’re thinking about getting solar panels! First, congratulations. Solar energy is one of the greenest energies available, and when it comes to being renewable, you can’t do much better. After all, when the sun goes out, we’ll have bigger problems to worry about than where we’re getting our electricity from.

Not sure where to start with solar? This article should help. We’re going to cover everything from how big a solar array you should buy to how you can get government rebates. Let’s get started.

Think about your goals

The first thing you need to do is determine how many solar panels you’ll need. Solar panels are rated in watts – and domestic solar panels usually produce from 250-400 watts per hour. Different types of solar panels will produce more or less depending on the materials that are used in their construction, and how they’re positioned, among other things. 

You’ll then have to determine how many hours of direct sunlight those solar panels are going to receive a day; 5 sunlight hours/day is often used as a very rough average. Then, you’ll have to determine how much electricity you consume a day. 

The average U.S. household consumes about 11,000 kWh of electricity a year. Divide that by 365, and you get about 30 kWh a day. That means you’ll need to produce ~6 kW an hour if you want to break even on power consumption, which means you’d need anywhere from 15 to 24 panels in your array.

That is, of course, assuming you want to power your house, and nothing more. There are other things you can consider. For example,  use fewer solar panels to simply reduce your overall costs. You can sell power to your utility (more on that in the next section). You can use solar to power lights outside your home, on your RV, and a whole lot more.

To make the most of solar panels, you need to figure out exactly what your goals are, how much power you’re consuming, and how solar panels can reduce or eliminate that power consumption.

Net metering is your friend

Net metering can be a great asset for residential solar power, although it’s only available to grid-tied solar arrays – in other words, your solar panels need to be connected to the electrical grid.

Not every utility offers net metering, but when they do, solar panels become that much better. What is net metering? It’s when your utility buys excess electricity generated by your solar panels, and credits you for the energy they buy.

For those of you who live in wintery climes, net metering is what makes solar panels viable for year-round electricity. In the summer, when you’re getting plenty of sunlight hours and using less electricity (because you’re out of the house), your utility buys electricity from you. In the winter, when you get fewer sunlight hours, you can use those credits to reduce (sometimes to zero) your electric bill. 

Some utilities will do more than just credit you for electricity – they’ll pay, in cash, for a lot of excess. In these areas, it can be a good idea to build a solar array that far exceeds the actual amount you’ll need to produce, but be careful – utilities have been known to change their mind on solar plans.

Look for government rebates

Rebates can be made available at both federal and state levels. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency is a great place to start looking.

These rebates can dramatically improve the financial viability of solar for many homeowners. When coupled with certain rebates, solar panels can pay for themselves in a matter of a few years. Once they’ve paid for themselves, they’ll become profitable for you as they continue to reduce your power bill every month.

Solar panels aren’t only for housing

Solar can change your lifestyle. It’s simple to equip an RV with solar panels and go on long adventures off the beaten path that wouldn’t be available if you had to connect your RV to a public park grid. You can use solar panels to charge your cell phone and other rechargeables when you’re on a camping trip. 

Additionally, solar powered lights can even illuminate your yard at night. You can get solar powered security cameras to keep your home safe, or solar powered Bluetooth speakers to keep the party going late into the night. Don’t worry, they store enough charge to keep them going at 2 AM.

Solar is life-changing. You get to go green, all while lowering your monthly utility bills. The biggest solar tip for beginners? Take the plunge. It’s worth it!

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