Buying and Installing Solar Panels
Buying and installing a solar energy system is not so different from any other major home renovation. Although the technology is still new to some people, it isn't new - it has been around since the early 1950's, and there are likely people in your area who have been installing these systems for 20 to 30 years.
Before attempting to choose a system or find a local solar dealer / installer, you may want to learn more about the economics of solar energy and the components that are typically included in a solar energy system. In addition, it is important to understand how much energy you are using, and if there are any effective ways to reduce your usage to cut down the price of a solar system.
You may want to consult your local telephone directory or Yellow Pages to see if you can locate a contractor under the categories Solar Energy, Renewable Energy or Alternative Energy. If your local directory does not have these categories, simply contact electricians or electrical contactors to see if they have any experience with the installation of solar panels and related equipment. As solar energy becomes more mainstream, electricians will begin to gain experience with the equipment.
In terms of purchasing a solar energy system, it is vital that you have a clear understanding of your daily energy usage. Once you are equipped with this information, either from examining your utility bill or from a custom energy use assessment performed by an engineer or other qualified professional, you can contact a contractor with solar design and installation experience. Such a contractor can design a system that will suit your needs, estimate a price tag and help you reduce your energy usage or load-shift to reduce demand on any particular part of the system.
Load-shifting refers to changing the energy sources for different equipment, such as switching to propane or natural gas rather than using electricity to power a clothes dryer, a kerosene refrigerator or other appliance. Although it is possible to use solar power to operate all your existing appliances, it may prove to be very expensive. The easiest and most economical option is to switch to free or less expensive alternatives, such as swapping an electric clothes dryer for a clothesline or getting a solar thermal system for domestic hot water and / or radiant heating. You could also switch to lower-energy options, such as more efficient appliances.
Load-shifting is simply a method of using more energy-dense and less expensive fuels, but it typically results in greater energy consumption, and it can cause reliance on more than one fuel. Keep in mind, an all-electric household powered by the sun is more self-sufficient than an electric, propane and kerosene-powered home.
In the end, you will want to approach the purchase and installation of a solar electrical system in much the same way as you would the purchase of a new roof, hardwood floor or other major renovation. Contact several vendors and contractors and ask for references and documentation to satisfy yourself that they are legitimate and competent. Most importantly, before you make a final decision, talk to the contractors to ensure that you have faith in their abilities, and that you are comfortable working closely with them to design the energy system that will become a major part of your home.