Solar power and the production of personal photovoltaic panels have come a very long way during the past decade. Solar-powered billboards line the highways, and some vacant warehouses and manufacturing buildings’ roofs have found their niche as unobstructed solar panel fields.
Has the technology and production advanced enough that it can power a small home or an air conditioner? The answer is yes.
Solar power is the conversion of the sun’s rays into electricity. This process is done directly with the use of photovoltaics (PV) or indirectly using a technique called concentrated solar power (CSP).
CSP involves focusing the sun’s rays through a mirrored or tracking system and using the concentrated heat to run a power generation system through the use of steam and other techniques. PV converts the sun’s rays into an electric current through a process called the photoelectric effect that takes place in solar cells and panels. It is a PV system that we commonly see powering billboards on the side of highways and for powering the homes of eco-minded early adopters.
The increase in interest and demand has lowered the cost of efficient PV systems enough to make them a realistic long-term alternative for homeowners. While it is still a relatively considerable up-front investment to power a complete home, there is the potential to use solar panels to offset some of your electricity bills. It is also possible to tie your PV system back into the main power grid so the energy produced by your solar panels will offset your overall electricity cost. In Ontario, this program is called the Ontario Power Authority microFIT program.
It can be difficult to generalize the pricing of home PV systems because there are many different factors that contribute to the cost, including your home, placement opportunities for the solar panels, and the structure of your roof. Fortunately, the economic downturn beginning in 2008 happened at the same time that PV panel production peaked so there is an oversupply on the market and excellent prices are available. A great aggregation of links to solar system installers within Canada can be found on the Eco Business Links website.
If you have more information on the use of residential solar power systems or advice from your own experience, please post it in the comments below.