Go Solar Without Going Broke

March 27, 2014

~Tricia Brown

Solar panels

Germany has long been the world leader when it comes to solar energy, but the U.S. is steadily gaining ground. An analysis by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) found that 930 new megawatts of photovoltaic solar energy were installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2013. That number represents a 20 percent increase from the second quarter of 2013 and a 35 percent year-to-year increase. Most of these increases were due to large-scale state and municipal projects as opposed to single-family dwellings going solar. Though the price of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the last five years, it’s still a major hurdle for most Americans. If you’re looking to begin your solar journey but costs are holding you back, look into these three budget-friendlier methods:

Build Your Own Panels

Those with a little mechanical inclination and a lot of patience can build solar panels rather cheaply. You’ll need a soldering iron and enough polycrystalline cells to produce your desired amount of power. Each cell should not cost much more than a couple bucks. Tabbing wire, plexiglass, a table saw or jigsaw and plywood round out the essentials.

The process entails gluing down the cells in equally spaced rows with tabbing wire running through each row. The finished product will be sealed in a wooden box with plexiglass covering the cells for protection. You can watch and follow along with any of the video tutorials out there—just do a simple search on Youtube.

Go One Room at a Time

Be it the kitchen or the bedroom, going solar in one room can significantly slash your electric bill. A television, lights, gaming console and a thermoelectric cooler for drinks can conceivably run on a 500-watt solar system. You’ll need a rechargeable 12-volt battery or two 6-volt golf cart batteries run in series. A true sine wave power inverter and charge controller will also be necessary.

The purpose of the solar panels in this scenario is to keep the batteries charged. Depending on the amp-hour rating of the batteries and the total wattage of all the devices, a full charge can potentially get you three days of power without recharging. You can always add more batteries to your bank to power even more equipment. The initial investment should pay for itself within a year.

Lease the System

A typical photovoltaic solar system to power an entire home can cost upwards of $40,000, depending on the size of the house. Most Americans would need to take out a loan or sell their future annuity payments to come up with that kind of money. The alternative is to lease a solar system.

Many of the large solar providers will install the system for free and charge you for usage. The one caveat is that leases can have terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. Some providers will move your system with you to your new home, but others will charge a fee to void the contract.

Solar power does not have to be a drain on your wallet, and you’ll stop draining the traditional power grid. Go solar, go independent, go off-grid.

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