Solar panels are definitely following the proven path of cell phones and computers. Great ideas that started out very expensive and kind of clumsy and over sized at first but then as demand increased, the solid technology also ramped up.
Now we have cell phones that are smaller and much more versatile. Computers are advancing so quickly that last years great new features are almost dinosaurs a year later. And then there is Kindle.... Technology is amazing!
What was once a major purchase for only part of the general population is now an everyday item in every household.
Solar panels are making that transition now. The cost has come tumbling down over the past few years. And the new options are much improved over the older editions. But solar energy hasn't hit that tipping point yet. Demand is not high enough yet to cause private investment competition that is necessary to level the field. But that day is coming.
Click the video below to see what is possible in some parts of America using solar energy and some great technology and skill.
At this point, it is probably not feasible to heat an entire house in the more northern climates. You could provide the power to run the furnace fan and then heat with gas. You could even power a hot water heater off the converted energy captured by your roof mounted solar panels. This would lower your electric bills. And for sure enough of the sun's clean, free energy could be gathered to run electrical items in your home.
There are some basic considerations before going forward on a solar panel project.
1.) Direct sunlight. Do you have a straight shot or are there trees in the way? Or maybe taller buildings. No sun means no energy.
2.) The orientation of the house or direction of roof line. Solar panels work best on a southern exposure. They will work facing east or west, but with some energy loss.
3.) The pitch of the roof could add some cost to the project. A flat roof will need brackets to change the angle of the panel to catch optimum sun rays. A roof with too much pitch will need an opposite set of hardware for the same reason.
4.) Available roof size and life. The amount of energy you plan to gather for your household needs will determine the number of panels required to meet that goal. Do you have enough roof space with that good southern exposure? Photovoltaic grids are usually warranted for 25 years. Is your roof that good?
There are three basic options to setting up your house with solar panels.
Grid-Tie allows you the lowest installation cost and cost of ownership since you are connecting your power produced into the local power grid. There is no storage into batteries. In this scenario it is entirely possible that in some months you may produce more power than your house even needs. Some states will pay you to sell them back your electrical overage. Washington state currently pays back 50% of what they would charge. In Hawaii, they pay back ZERO! Check with your state to see their plan.
To be connected to the grid, you will need an agreement with the power company and installation of a meter that can handle "net metering". In most jurisdictions, this requires an electrical permit. Which requires a licensed electrician. Getting a professional isn't a bad idea anyway. Doing it right the first time is always cheaper than replacing flawed work.
Off Grid doesn't need a tie in to the local commercial power source. Your extra energy is stored in deep cycle batteries. Depending on the size of the panel array on your roof, you might need many batteries. And you should have a proper small structure to store those batteries. This building will require ventilation and should be constructed to limit potential for random spark.
Generator backup would be the third option. You would have a gas powered generator to pick up the slack. Not a great option for everyday use.
Michael Boxwell has written a good book describing consideration prior to solar panel usage and very detailed instructions on putting together the array. Best of all he has updated his information many times since the first edition. His 2012 version is very up to date. I noticed in his writing that he thinks by 2015, solar energy will be a cheaper form of electricity than even coal fired power stations. Maybe...
The title of his book is pretty long, but it is a good reference for anyone planning on adding solar panels to their energy plan. The title is...
Solar Electricity Handbook 2012 Edition-A Single Practical Guide To Solar Energy-Designing And Installing Photovoltaic Solar Energy Systems. It is available from Amazon. And it can be read on your Kindle!
We will get to the place where the free, clean energy from the sun will power much of our world. As in all cases, it will come about when the entrepreneurs of the world take the lead.