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Is Solar Power Right for You?

For many folks, the use of solar panels to generate electricity is a recent technological development. When some think of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, images of early NASA vehicles in outer space might immediately come to mind. Indeed, America’s first permanent satellite, Explorer I, was powered by PV panels in 1958.

However, the use of solar energy dates back to 1767 when a Swiss scientist named Horace-Benedict de Saussure built an insulated, glass-faced box, generating temperatures of up to 230 degrees from sunlight. His invention was dubbed the “solar oven.”

Fast-forward to today, and nearly everyone is aware of solar. Yet, PV has remained one of the most expensive forms of electricity. People always ask why this is the case when the fuel is “free.” It’s because the equipment is expensive, and the sun doesn’t always shine. While equipment prices have dropped dramatically, the output of commercially available panels ranges from 5 to 19 percent (15 percent is common) of the theoretical limit, assuming there were never clouds and the sun was at high noon 24 hours a day.

So, is solar electricity right for you? The short answer is, it depends. The first thing you should consider is why you want to go solar. If it is for backup power in an emergency, stop here. PV systems are tied to the grid for safety reasons[1]. When the power goes out, the PV array shuts down. If it is for environmental reasons, read on.

Your next step is to contact us to discuss your plan and let us help you first make your home as energy efficient as possible. After all, it doesn’t make sense to spend a significant amount on a solar system that will provide electricity to power an inefficient home.

Once your home is as efficient as possible, consider a south-facing installation on your roof.  That is typically the preferred direction[2] for the placement of solar panels. Do trees shade the roof at any time? Next to darkness, shade is the natural enemy of solar panels. Is your roof structure capable of accepting the weight of the panels and any other load, say wind and snow? Are there any neighborhood or local regulations prohibiting solar panels?

Now to the nitty gritty. Grab your electric bills from the past year and see how many kilowatt hours (kWh) your home has used. Blue Grass Energy can assist with this task. The typical American home PV system produces 5 kWh per hour. How much of your home’s annual use can be covered?

If you want more information, reach out to us. We actually have an installation at our Nicholasville office, located at 1201 Nicholasville Road. If you decide to talk to a contractor, be sure to check references. Increased interest in solar has spawned a large number of sellers who have little knowledge in PV installations.

For a list of frequently asked questions about solar, click here.


[1] To provide power during an outage you need batteries to store the electricity, plus advanced controls that will safely allow your system to island or supply power only to your home. Such systems are usually equal to the cost of the PV system itself.

[2] Recent research is showing western facing roofs might be better choices for generation during peak demand hours.

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