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Solar Panels for Homeowners - Entry 3

What you need to research online if you are thinking of putting solar panels on your roof

By Richard SoullierePublished 27 days ago 5 min read
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Photo by Vivint Solar on Unsplash

After taking a brief walk in the sun, your attic, and what was likely your basement, now you know what to look for. Many people make the mistake of jumping online and googling solar panels. Don't.

Empty your mind of pre-conceived notions of solar panels before proceeding.

This article will show you what specific things to look for and a couple things to ignore as you start clicking around for quotes as well as how confident you can be with those quotes.

As a first step, use ecosia.org as your search engine. In fact, go one better and set it up to be your default search engine for whenever you type in search terms in the address bar at the top (quick how-to guide here). Why bother? Less prying, much less of your data is shared, you still get great and fast results, it's still free, and they plant trees with every few searches you do! Yes, really. Searching means trees get planted when you search with Ecosia. Make the switch today.

Ok, so now that you know to use Ecosia to do your online searches, what do you search for? First up, I would NOT recommend searching solar panels. Why? Those will be limited by what local installers have/use AND the technology is so close (at the time of publishing this article) that there is very little difference between one brand of solar panels and another in my opinion.

Start with home insurance. It sounds dumb, but I have spoken to many people around Canada over the past couple years and there are many areas where insurance companies there will not insure any panels you have on your house. Yeah, really! Get some fake quotes and tell them that you are not using the panels to generate revenue (because farms do) and you are getting, say, ten panels for $12,000 all in. (That amount is nowhere near accurate, but it is just to see if they would cover it.) We live in a large city and even we had to switch home insurance providers because of this!

If no home insurance companies in your area will insure your home with panels, then you either assume all the risk or admit they quashed your dreams.

If insurance won't be an issue, what you absolutely need to search for on Ecosia is inverter features. How many kilowatts (kW) can it convert from DC to AC? You see, solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity, but pretty much everything in a standard house uses alternating current (AC). If you have a million solar panels on your roof generating, say 15kW, and you find inverters cap at 5kW, then you will need three or four inverters! If you only get one inverter in that situation, then you have wasted your money on ten panels from which you will effectively get zero electricity from!

Or have you? Some electric vehicles can be charged using DC, which means the car can be charged directly from the panels without having to be converted to AC first. That means, for example, you could have panels generating 7kW and an inverter that converts only 5Kw and you would not be wasting much at all since the car would be using the extra 2kW. Having your car charger connect to the inverter is another feature to look into.

The one thing I was disappointed with was not looking into resiliency of the inverter. If the power is out in the area, but it's a sunny day, will the panels still generate? As it turns out, mine won't. Shocker, eh?

Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

Many inverters require a constant power source, which means connected to the electricity grid OR a battery. Given that our area has historically suffered very little in the way of power outages even in wind, snow, and rain storms, we opted to do without this feature without knowing this was an issue. Oh my.

Ok, brief mention on batteries. If your grid is reliable, why bother given the cost? Crunch your numbers if you don't believe me. Anyway, what about getting a battery to keep just the inverter running for a couple days? Totally do-able. In fact, DC batteries are cheaper than AC batteries (ask your technician for details).

So you want a battery and let's say the inverter has that feature. Let's also say you live in the province of Ontario, like me. As of the date of publishing this article, the law there says you need an enclosed, heated space OUTSIDE of your house to put the battery. If you have a garage, great, go ahead. If you are like us and don't have a garage, bear in mind that the enclosed spaced cannot be cabinet-size. It must be a full size door with properly built full size walls and everything else. We found that prohibitive.

Tip: If you have an EV, I would strongly pick a model that allows you to plug your fridge into your car during a power outage. Most EV batteries can handle that easily, but you have to request it when buying the car.

Also, what data do you want to see on the inverter's app? They should provide homeowners with at least something, but the more detailed data you want, well, the inverter needs to offer that. Also, how does the inverter send the data to the internet for your app to then display the data? Cellular towers or wifi? Which of those are available in your area? If only cellular is offered be careful, some companies charge extra for that! (The one we got started offering that for free but then changed to say that they will start charging for it after five years - without telling the installer. Fortunately, ours has a wifi option, so we avoided those extra charges by connecting it to our home internet. Easy fix, but still.)

In short, go to town on researching inverter specs. Not the panels.

The other thing to note would be optimizers - which I am glad I noticed before I bought. Some inverters work in a way where all the panels are off or all are on. This is problematic if you have panels on the east and panels on the west using the same inverter since they get sun at different times. Or, if you have a tree that would shade some panels some of the day (but not all day), then a dumb inverter would keep all your panels off while that one panel is shaded!!

Enter optimizers. If you have a problem with shade or sunlight throughout the day, then each panel will need an optimizer OR have two inverters, one for each group of panels. That's a discussion with your installer. Based on my experience, I would only ever load up panels on one side of your house unless it's southeast-southwest. It adds to the cost (though not by too much) and buying a house with a roof with a smooth slant facing south is where money is better-spent in my opinion, but at least optimizers exist as a work-around.

The next article dives into the financials a bit, a few things to know about the installer, and how reliable quotes are.

To read other articles in this series, click here.

If you are a gardener or if you know others who have a green thumb, check out Garden University on Etsy for eco-friendly items to express that earth-caring element.

Sustainabilityshort storyScienceAdvocacy
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About the Creator

Richard Soulliere

Bursting with ideas, honing them to peek your interest.

Enjoyes blending non-fiction into whatever I am writing.

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