A New Language - Installing a Solar PV System - Reducing the Cost and Your Carbon Footprint

In upcoming blogs, I'll be posting photos and comments about the installation of our solar, photovoltaic (PV), battery back-up system. Our house is oriented on an east-west axis with the longer side of the house facing south for maximum solar gain. The south facing roofs were designed at the proper angle, to maximize sunlight, for the planned installation of PVs. We have good sun exposure which will improve when two trees are removed. Because we have good southern exposure and we planned for a PV installation during site visits and the house design process, this installation makes sense for us. If you read my first blog, you already know that we built an energy efficient home. We also installed a Geo-exchange heating and cooling system, energy efficient appliances and bulbs and conserve energy where ever possible. Are there situations when installing PVs, initially, may not make sense? Absolutely. Let's start with the basics.

Do you have southern exposure on your house roof or in your yard that is not shaded by chimneys, trees, or another building? Shading will reduce the energy output of your PVs. If you believe you have unobstructed southern exposure, have you evaluated your electric usage and taken steps to minimize the amount of electricity your household consumes by:
installing LED (or CFL) lighting or bulbs;
caulking around drafty windows and doors;
installing energy efficient appliances, water heater, windows, or doors when the time came to replace those items;
or improved the insulation in your home?
If you haven't taken any of these steps, installing PVs may cost you a lot more than necessary. If you heat your home with electric baseboards or a heat pump and use air conditioning in the summer, reducing drafts and stopping the loss of heated and cooled air by caulking and improving attic insulation are essential. Why? Because once you've completed this, plus any necessary energy saving upgrades listed above, you will need less PVs to provide electricity as a main power source or as an emergency back up system for your home.
Most people install PVs to save money on their electric bills. Reducing their carbon footprint becomes an added bonus; their 'aha' moment. But, if you pay for more PVs than you need, have you saved money? Have you reduced your carbon footprint? Keep in mind it takes energy to manufacture and transport the components that make up a photovoltaic panel and PV system, which can mean the use of fossil fuels; thus more carbon output. However, on the plus side, installing a PV system allows your home to generate electricity and reduce the amount of electricity you might have consumed from coal powered electric plants; thus less carbon output.                                                                                                                              

My recommendation is to evaluate your site, the building envelope of your home, and your electric usage before calling a solar installer. An energy audit is a good first step that makes sense. Implementing the suggestions from the audit can save you money, overall, and reduce your carbon footprint. It will also help your PV system be a win-win for you and the environment.