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Applying photovoltaic (PV) panels to bind solar energy is now becoming more popular with homeowners and businesses, along with utility companies who encourage it. Based on research data published by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), there was a 36 percent growth in 2013 installations - that number has increased immensely in the past decade.

What does the future look like for solar residential PV installations?

Lower costs are a primary factor for the surge in PV fittings. SEIA reports that average solar panel rates and fees have decreased quite a bit over the last couple of years. Residential solar installations came out on top in comparison to businesses and utility companies. More than a million American homes now have them.

In Europe, solar energy is embraced even more. According to a post in The 9 Billion, countries like Germany are aiming to reduce BigGrid energy significantly. Small renewable power systems are already attributed with more than 30 percent of Germany's power production. According to global financial giant HSBC, segmented battery storage solutions within home solar systems will help consumers save much more in comparison to residential electric grid power consumption and usage.

In the U.S., solar energy system production has made noteworthy strides but pales in comparison to Germany. However, advocates see promise. Robert Damrau, who works under the Western Regional Sales division for Nevada Solar Designs (a PV installation company specializing in off-grid systems), had predicted that Elon Musk (owner of both SolarCity - a solar energy system leasing company and Tesla - an electric vehicle manufacturer), "will align a combination of electric vehicle transportation (EVT) production with private solar maintained lithium battery electrical systems, removing the need for BigGrid electrical service, residential power appliance consumption and EVT overnight recharging." Tesla has made some considerable advances in the area and continues to build on its success.

Is BigGrid fearful of these novelties? According to an article in Slate, Josh Voorhees indicated that eminent (conservative) lobbies pushed adamantly for policies that would allow utility companies to incur additional levies to residential solar energy producers who sell superfluous power back to the grid (can apply to home owners or solar leasing companies). Will that dissuade the future growth of US residential PV installations? Voorhees doesn’t think so, despite utility businesses "viewing the rooftop panels as an existential threat, given that they allow consumers to become their own energy producers. Such fears will only grow as the technology becomes cheaper and as companies develop cost-effective ways for homeowners to store the excess energy their panels produce."

Which homes would derive the most benefits from residential solar energy systems?

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Small solar home energy systems are now becoming more prevalent, paving the way for a brighter future. If you are one of the many homeowners considering PV panel installation, it’s recommended that you take the time to research whether they are the right fit for your home and budget before going all in. Some things to deliberate on when considering the purchase of a residential solar energy system:

  • Have you already implemented other energy-efficient measures or tools that could make buying a smaller PV system feasible?
  • What is the current state of your roofing, location, and your home's orientation?
  • What are your electricity usage trends and averages?
  • Are you looking to connect to the grid?

According to Damrau, "almost anyone who has AC power provided to their private home or business with a south facing exposure is a candidate for adding a grid-tied solar system. The basic selling model to consumers is for single family homes, including manufactured structures."

If you live in an attached home (townhouse, duplex, condominium or apartment) where you don't own the property rights or have adequate space/an area for application of PV panels - you may not be able to install your own system. However, solar garden communities have provided alternative solutions so that you may have access to solar energy. Also, multiple US regions have policies in place to foster and endorse shared community solar programs.

For homes that may not be PV compatible or capable, Damrau says that “geographical location will drive the daily solar array output production performance. Beyond the actual latitude site location, local weather patterns play into the yield evaluation." For example, some California coastal areas (the state with the most residential solar energy system installations) can experience morning fog. However, a little further inland, optimal solar exposure may be emblematic during the day. Essential factors such as these need to be considered when gauging the projected return on investment for a solar home installation.

Which residences are considered superlative when it comes to small solar energy system installation? According to Damrau, "homes heated electrically or running heat pumps can surely offset their monthly bill by adding a grid-tied solar system," as well as "any home running AC-powered air conditioning." He also adds that “homes that heat with oil or gas won't receive any benefit from solar electrical generation other than offsetting the cost to run the AC fan circulating the air or water in the heat radiating elements."

Which solar energy system installation model is best for your home?

Once you consider the basic facets and have come to the conclusion that you could benefit, what are the possibilities for residential PV installation and financing?

  • Pay directly for the system: you cover costs immediately with an installation company that performs an analysis of the site, customizes a system and commissions it with your grid electric service provider. With this, you solely own the structure and rights to any rebates, federal tax credits, state/utility incentives, plus any surplus energy you generate and return to the grid. Some solar energy businesses facilitate all the necessary paperwork for power company inducements, connection, commission and permits. There are number of payment possibilities, whether it be cash or financing (via a home mortgage refinance or second mortgage, for example).
  • Third-party financing Power Purchase Agreement: you establish an arrangement and terms with a solar energy installation company to strategize and deploy a system but pay nothing up front. Instead, a fixed amount or value is to be paid for a set amount of time as determined by both parties for the duration of the contract. The monthly rate is configured based on your current electric utilization. They own the system and the rights to sell back any excess energy to the grid so that their maintenance and service costs can be covered. According to Damrau, this can entail the installation of a larger system (versus what you would actually need) since the solar company has to "harvest more energy than the established consumption rate."
  • Leasing: If you don't want to pay upfront costs for installation/to own, you can lease a system over a certain amount of time. Once the lease ends, you can buy out the system for what Damrau pronounces as a "modest fee."

Installing solar panels is no small feat or venture. Still, there are plenty of beneficial programs and financial incentives to make the most of this investment. "Federal tax incentives are the most famous," Damrau says, "but there are also asset depreciation models, often requiring guidance by a tax expert." If you believe you can save more by doing it yourself, note that proper installation certification is compulsory from utility companies when connecting to the grid. Also, ensure meticulous research is performed so that you are privy to all possible advantages and savings.

If you decide to go with an installation company, that are multiple selections to choose from. With some due diligence, you can get an accurate sense of varied estimates. Your decision will yield a valuable long-standing relationship with solar energy for a lifetime.