humankind has been doing for centuries. From the ancient sundials that helped people keep track of time, to today’s very modern solar panels used to power our homes and other energy-dependent activities. Using solar power to generate electricity at home is a very appealing option for a number of reasons: not only would you be reducing your overall environmental footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, but you would be reducing your bills and could even generate some income by selling back excess energy into the grid¹. It is therefore a no-brainer that in the European Union, a target has been set to encourage EU countries to roll out renewables such as solar in order to achieve the overarching target of 20% renewables by 2020².
If you are looking into options for making your house more eco-friendly and saving some money, solar power is probably one of the most attractive renewable energy options. In fact, solar power is becoming the cheapest way to generate electricity, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysts. The cost of solar has fallen to about a third of levels in 2010, even among some of the poorest countries³. Solar panels are also relatively compact and can be placed on rooftops, balconies or different places on your property.
So can you generate solar electricity at home and if so how?
The simple answer is yes, you can.
Indeed, there is a term for generating power at home: it is called micro-generation and refers to the stand-alone generation of low carbon heat and/or electricity which is feasible for the average home⁴. How to do it is a fairly straightforward question too: by installing a set of photovoltaics. Having said that, while going off the grid entirely may be difficult for many homeowners, generating a portion of a home’s electrical needs is definitely possible with solar power.
The extent to which solar power generation is an attractive option for your own houseful will be largely determined by the following factors:
- the availability of the key resource – the sun
- space for the solar system size you need to power your household’s energy needs
- the level of cost and investment involved
- the local permits required
How much electricity can be generated?
In terms of how much energy you will be able to generate, this largely depends on the availability of the sun. Solar photovoltaic panels use the sun’s energy to create electricity to run appliances and lighting. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be sunny all the time for power to be generated, as the technology relies simply on daylight. Solar cells, which are usually placed on the roof, are made up of layers of semi conducting material which create an electric field, when the sun shines on them, causing electricity to flow. The stronger the sun, the more electricity is produced¹,⁴.
But how much power you will generate will also depend on where the solar panels or tiles are placed. Roofs are an option that is preferred by a number of people, but to maximise energy there needs to be no shade on the panels, especially during the prime sunlight hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; if you are able to install your solar system to face the South this will provided an optimum potential for energy generation. This is very important as even if just one of a solar panel’s 36 cells is shaded, power production will be reduced by more than half⁵. With today’s modern technology, solar panels are light and solar tiles, in particular, can replace traditional roof tiles. It is estimated that panels covering 10-15 square metres could produce about a third of an average family’s electricity⁴.
Most photovoltaic units installed in homes are linked to the utility grid. This allows for the power collected through the solar powers to be fed directly into the utility power distribution system of the house or building. In this way, the solar energy system installed reduces demand for power from the utility when the solar array is generating electricity – thus lowering the utility bill. These types of solar energy systems are also known as “on grid” or “battery-less” and they make up approximately 98% of the solar power systems installed today⁵.