Straight Talk Articles

June, 2018

Dear Pat, I’ve been hearing about solar power as an option for homes for years now. Can you tell me some basics, and whether it’s something I should pursue? – Don


Dear Don,

There are three ways solar can provide energy for your home:

  1. Passive solar is a way to capture the sun’s heat directly, often through south facing windows and dark colored stone floors that can store the heat.

  2. Solar water heating systems typically have panels on a roof that collect solar energy and a pump that circulates the heated water for storage in a water tank.

  3. Photovoltaic (PV) systems also collect solar energy through a panel, but PV panels convert the energy into electricity.


I suspect you are thinking about a PV system because these have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. PV technology has improved, costs have dropped and financing offers are abundant.


PV panels are usually installed on a roof in an “array”. The panels generate direct current (DC) power, which is then channeled through an inverter that feeds electricity to the home, the electric power grid, or a battery system where it is stored for future use. (1)


Several factors go into calculating how cost-effective it would be to install a solar power system in your home. You can try to figure it out yourself by studying the information sources we suggest at the end of this article. Once you’ve done your research you can use the PVWatts Calculator (2) to estimate how much production and value a PV system on your home could yield.


An easier path is to find a good solar contractor to provide you with an estimate for a system. Look for contractors that are certified with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). Your local co-op may also have a list of solar contractors.


When you call contractors they will ask questions to determine if your home is a good candidate for solar. If it is, they should be interested in providing you with an estimate. In order to complete an estimate the contractor will need to determine the size of system, which will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your current and anticipated electricity needs

  • Roof area, orientation and pitch (15 to 40 degrees is ideal) (3)

  • The number of hours of sunshine per year

  • The amount of shade, dust, snow, or other factors that block sunshine


If your roof will need replacing in the next few years, you will want to do that before installing the solar panels; so be sure to include that expense when calculating the overall cost.


There may be Federal, State and Utility tax credits and rebates available to offset the price of the equipment and installation. You can find links to them on the More Information page of the energytips website listed at the bottom of this article.


If the estimate you receive from the contractor takes all of the factors we’ve mentioned into account it should give you a fairly accurate idea of your return on investment. It’s a good idea to get more than one estimate if you can, and to review the estimate with your electric co-op to make sure the electric rate and metering arrangements are correct.


Before you make a final decision you might want to ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • How does the investment in a PV system compare to upgrading the energy efficiency of your home? Efficiency could yield more bang for your buck and make your home more comfortable. A home energy audit can help you answer this question.

  • Is there a better way to invest in solar energy? Some co-ops offer community solar programs, which can produce solar electricity at a lower cost than home systems.

Investment in solar or energy efficiency in your home can help increase the home’s resale value. Recent reports show that the presence of a PV system can raise a home’s resale value an average of $15,000 (4) and help it sell faster (5).


I hope this helps you in your exploration of solar PV systems.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency.

For more information on solar energy for your home, please visit the June 2018 more information page.



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Solar installers work high off the ground, on steep roofs and must drive fasteners through the roofing.  This is a job that requires specialized training. Photo Credit: MariaGodfrida,