Adding solar panels to your home is becoming a popular upgrade, just as you might consider a new addition or remodeling a bathroom. However, this requires a lot more forethought than retiling a shower, as there is quite a bit of infrastructure involved as well. Here are a few of the things you will need to install.
Electrical Shutoff System
If you want your solar panels to simply power one or two dedicated devices, you may not need this item, but most solar installations tie into the electrical system already in your home. This way you never have to worry about whether your home is running off solar or grid based power, as your home will seamlessly switch between the two as necessary. However, this does mean that you will need to have a shutoff system in place that cuts the power between your home and the grid in the case of an outage. Most will cut all the electricity to your home, but more sophisticated systems can continue to allow power to your home through battery backups or even just the panels.
While it may seem silly to cut power to your home when the sun is shining, an electrical shutoff is legally required because it is a major safety concern for the power company. Workers going to fix the outage need to be absolutely sure that the lines don't have any power running through them to safely complete the repair. Without the cutoff, power could leak from your home back into the lines, endangering workers.
As you might know, there are two types of current that can power a device-- AC and DC. Your home probably runs on AC, and your new panels will provide DC. If you want your panels to work seamlessly with the rest of your electrical system, you need to convert the DC power from your panels into the AC that runs the rest of your house. The key piece of equipment for doing this is an inverter.
Other than your panels, this will be the most expensive piece of equipment you buy. Fortunately, the only maintenance it will need is a quick dusting every so often since collected dust can cause the inverter to overheat. However, when you are considering the lifetime costs of your system, you need to keep in mind that the inverter will need to be replaced every 10 years or so. Since this is an expensive component, this can have a large impact on how cost effective your system ends up being.
Batteries big enough to power your home for any realistic amount of time are extremely expensive. This is why grid-tied systems are so popular. Rather than investing in huge banks of batteries, these systems just use the traditional grid when the sun isn't shining bright enough to provide the power you need. In many areas, you can sell any excess power you generate back to the power company to help offset this cost. The downside is that you are still tied to the main grid, and the electrical shutoff will kick in whenever there is an outage.
If your goal is to have completely independent power, or outages are common in your area, you might want to invest in a battery backup system. Be sure to work with your electrician to make sure you are getting the right amount of capacity to meet your needs without wasting money on batteries you won't use.
Even with all these extras, installing a solar system is often a net gain for your wallet, it just may not be as big as you were originally anticipating. The key is to get a professional to inspect your home early in the process. They can give you some real numbers on what you can expect from your system and work through the cost/benefit analysis with you for a few types of systems. For more information, speak with an experienced electrician from a company like Skyline Electric, Inc.