Affordable Solar Power for Residential and Recreational Use

Residential solar power systems provide renewable electricity from the sun. There are many options that can cost from $100 to tens of thousands of dollars. Getting an affordable solar power system requires you to understand how much power you need, when you use it, and how you can make the generated power last longer.

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The main components of a home solar power system are:

  • Solar panels - These convert the solar energy of the sun directly into electricity and are rated in Watts ranging from 5 W up to 700 W. The higher the Wattage, the more electric current it can supply. Some panels are only large enough to power small garden ornaments while others can be combined to create large systems that can be used for solar home heating or solar water heating. There are two types of panels, photovoltaic (rigid but can which can provide more power) and amorphous (less power, but easier to handle).

  • Charge controllers - These electrical devices maximize the current generated from solar panels. For small systems, it's not necessary to have a charge controller in the circuit since the current is so low (< 500 mA). For larger systems, they are necessary to increase the efficiency (optimizes voltage versus current).

  • Batteries - Solar panels produce direct current (DC) which can be stored in batteries and stored for convenient use after sunset. Small system use simple rechargeable NiCad batteries while large systems use deep-cycle batteries that can be regularly recharged.

  • Inverter - Household appliances such as blenders, stoves, and washing machines, all run on alternating current (AC). Solar panels produce DC current. An inverter is required to convert the DC current to AC current, so that you can continue to use the same household wiring, circuits and appliances without doing any retrofitting.

Basic Solar Panel Applications

The simplest introduction to solar power is through off-the-shelf solar-powered garden lights and ornaments (typically $3 - $50). These self-contained units come prewired with a solar panel and rechargeable battery. They are simple to handle and install but produce very low power. The storage energy is also low that it usually does not last throughout the night.

Portable Systems

Portable solar panels are mainly used by outdoor enthusiasts to recharge batteries (typically $30 - $150). Amorphous panels are more convenient to use since they are flexible and can be rolled up for quick storage and carrying. Again, these units are low power and are mainly used when travelling away from the electrical grid or for emergency battery backup.

Stand-Alone DC systems

A small, stand-alone DC system can power things like boats, RVs and small household applications. These systems typically cost from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, although this varies widely depending on the application and on the location. Photovoltaic solar panels are permanently installed in well-lit areas that are fully exposed to the sun (i.e. roofs, boat decks). The DC energy is stored in deep cycle rechargeable batteries with the use of a charge controller. The typical application is for small household applications, such as running DC appliances or for LED lighting. These are only small, supplemental systems and do not take the place of the primary electrical systems.

Stand-Alone AC Systems

When powering entire homes, the stored energy in the batteries is converted to AC power by an inverter. The solar energy must be collected with a number of solar panels (usually 15 -25) to provide enough energy for a typical household use. A charge controller is necessary to maximize the current production. Cottages and homes that are not connected to the electrical grid may find this installation practical (get a free quote for solar in your area). However, being conservative with energy use is still necessary since batteries won't become fully charged on overcast days.

Affordable solar power systems are available, but every homeowner must determine their energy needs, where they want to use solar power, and the amount of money they're willing to invest. As new technology develops, the hope is that price of solar power will become more accessible to a growing number of residential homeowners.