Solar Power Everyone Can Afford

This is a sample of a new article I’ve written for Happy To Survive Magazine. Read the full version on the iTunes App store. This article details how much you can benefit from a solar panel purchase ranging from $370 – $5,000.


Solar power is a topic that perks the interest of scores of homeowners who wish they didn’t have to pay an electric bill. Putting up an array of solar panels on your roof will give you years of clean, free electricity. So what’s stopping most of us from ordering our solar panels today? It’s the up-front price, of course.

A solar array that produces enough energy to take the average U.S. house off the electric grid can cost more than $11,000 and may require buying as many as 31 panels. People who put a whopping investment of this magnitude into solar power can get their money back in electric-bill savings in about 13 years. They’ll also make a profit of as much as $10,000 in savings over the 25 years most solar panels are guaranteed to last.

In the long-run going solar makes perfect sense, but that doesn’t stop the up-front cost from stinging. Fortunately, a third option exists halfway between going all-out on a solar panel purchase, and sticking with your utility company. You can make a solar panel micro-buy. That’s when you buy enough solar panels to cover some of your appliances’ electric needs, but not enough to get totally off the grid.

The micro-buy option has two advantages. You don’t have to drop major dough on a full-purchase in the $11,000 arena, and you still get to save money on your electric bill. You can start by installing just one panel, or you can install as many as you can afford at the time being. As you add more panels, you’ll cover the electric demands of more and more of your appliances.

By buying a single panel you can produce as much as 290 watts at a cost of about $370. A micro-solar purchase like this can cover most of the electricity five light bulbs, or a computer will consume. Taking these items off your electric bill saves you about $29 a year. The savings of this starting investment may seem small, but as Obi-wan Kenobi said, “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.”

In the past installing just one panel was a challenge because of the limits of supporting devices that convert solar power from direct electric current (DC) into the alternating current (AC) used in domestic homes. To harness the electricity produced by solar panels you need to also have a charge controller, a battery and an inverter to respectively regulate, store and convert DC to AC.

charger and inverter and battery

The combined cost of these accompanying devices can run about $200 with some clever eBay shopping. Unfortunately most inverters are built to handle big solar arrays. Many won’t be compatible with just one panel. Luckily a company called EnPhase Energy is now making microinverters specifically designed to handle one panel. The problem is their retail cost is $200, while the cost of a bigger 1,000-watt inverter can be as low as $40. The truth is that buying just one solar panel usually incurs extra costs, even if it’s the least expensive option overall.

If you buy a few more solar panels you can save on the cost of your inverter and save more money on your electric bill. By installing four solar panels you’ll produce more than 1,000 watts for an initial cost of less than $2,000. With that power you can cover all of the electricity your refrigerator uses.

Refrigerators never stop using energy and they can cost as much as 10 cents per kilowatt hour to run. With some older models you’ll save $3,500 over the life of your four-panel array in refrigerator savings alone. If you have a more efficient fridge that uses 350 kilowatts per year instead of the 1,400 kilowatts used by 1986 versions, you’ll save even more.

solar savings

When you do the math a small solar investment to cover the cost of your most electric-hogging appliances makes a lot of sense. If you buy approximately $3,000 worth of panels you can produce enough power to cover a few light bulbs, your computer, your fridge and even the electric range burner on the top of your stove.

$3,000 can buy as many as eight solar panels that produce more than 2,000 watts. That amount of power makes a big dent in other major energy consumers like hair driers, and space heaters. These appliances suck as much as 1,500 watts from the grid when in use.

What $3,000 can’t buy is enough solar electricity to eclipse the power needs of a water pump, water heater, or clothes drier. These babies can require as much as 4,000 watts. To cover them you’ll have to buy at least 14 panels and spend more than $5,000.

As the cost of adding more panels climbs, just remember your overall savings are increasing as well. By only using 4,900 kilowatt hours of electricity with 14 panels, instead of the average household consumption of 8,900 kilowatt hours, you save as much as $3,504 a year. That’s equivalent to 40 cents being deposited in your bank account, every hour.

hut renewable nergy and solar panel and micro-buy

Only buying enough solar panels to cover part of your energy needs makes a lot of sense if you don’t want to take out a loan, or make a huge down payment. Of course each of our energy needs will be different. If you run heating or air conditioning units during the winter or summer you may use up to 15,000 watts per hour. Heating and air conditioning units are the biggest energy hogs in a home and, unfortunately, you can’t cover their electric needs without an investment approaching $11,000.

That’s a hefty price to pay for living entirely off the grid. But as you’ve seen, living partially off the grid is a very viable option. Even if you can buy a solar array that will cover all of your energy needs, if you’re financing, you should consider how much you’re array will eventually cost you, considering the interest you’ll pay on it. You may save more money by buying fewer panels to escape a loan. At a later date, you can then buy a full array using the money you save on your electric bill.

In order to find out whether solar panels make sense on your roof you can go to the website Solar List. There you’ll find a tab that says, “Estimate your solar potential.” This nifty widget lets you look up your own address and outline your roof with Google maps to see your personal solar power potential.

solar panel micro-buy

Once you know how much solar power you can actually produce you’ll need to find out how much power you need. There are several products available to identify how much electricity your individual appliances are using. One of these gadgets is FutureDash’s EnergyBuddy. EnergyBuddy sends reports to your computer, or smart phone, detailing how much electricity you’re using. It also helps you track down which appliances are hogging the most energy. The little box also allows you to set electric budgets for your house. It will glow green, yellow, or red to show you whether you are under or over your target energy use.

Solar panels are getting cheaper and more efficient every day. The U.S. government is even offering a 30 percent tax credit to homes that install renewable energy sources. Certain utility companies will provide additional incentives for going renewable. With the option between a full solar array purchase, or a micro-buy, it’s never made more financial sense to install a solar array that’s the right size for you.

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