Solar energy has grown in popularity as the cost of PV panels and installations has lowered over the last few years. The environmental benefits appeal to a consumer base that is far more aware of the damage that has been done to the planet than previous generations were.
One survey conducted by Pew Research shows that 89% of Americans are in favor of solar energy expansion. This means installations such as solar farms which can provide electricity for whole areas of residential homes.
It is therefore only natural that when people look at installing solar panels, they would expect that they could become self-sufficient and no longer need to be connected to the grid.
However, that might not be the case. There are as many myths as there are truths surrounding renewable energy. One of the biggest questions solar consumers have is whether PV panels are sufficient to produce all the energy a home needs today.
Can a home be powered solely by solar power?
Earlier this year, the German Chancellor warned of an increase in the use of fossil fuels. It appears that coal-fired electricity generation in particular is increasing rather than slowing down. This is not the news environmentalists wanted to hear.
The dependency on fossil fuels is worrying, but there is still some skepticism amongst many about how effective solar panels can be.
Can a home be exclusively powered by solar energy?
The simple answer is a resounding yes. The most efficient solar panels are perfectly capable of producing enough energy to power a home. And without the need for drawing electricity from the grid. However, there are some factors to consider.
What could stop your home from being powered purely by solar energy?
The two main factors that could hinder your total reliance on this renewable energy source are the amount of sunlight that directly hits your roof each day, and how much electricity you typically use.
Some areas such as South and North Dakota suffer from a shortage of sunny days compared to other states such as California. Homeowners there may struggle to be fully reliant on solar panels.
Excessive use of electricity would also hamper the possibility of solely using solar energy in a home. Or at least it would increase the amount of PV panels required to generate enough electricity.
But it might also depend on what solar panels you use, and what system you choose.
What are the different options for solar panel installations?
Solar panels are much more efficient today than the early installations were. High-performance cells can achieve up to 22.8% efficiency. Early PV panels were only around 6% efficient at converting sunlight into electricity.
Today's solar panels can generate between 390 to 440 Watts. Sales are increasing too as prices drop. In the UK, sales of solar panels have soared as the energy crisis bites. It is estimated that solar panels are not only more efficient now, but around 60% cheaper than they were a decade ago.
But, how solar panels are used will make a difference in how effective they are in your home.
The three different types of solar panel installations are as follows:
- Off-grid solar installations
- Grid-tied solar installations
- Hybrid solar installations
Off-grid installations are what many people strive for. They are not tied into the grid, and there is no utility company involved. They can be simpler to install than other systems, and they can power a home during a blackout. As long as the batteries have sufficient energy stored.
The most common type of solar system that is installed in residential homes. This system is still tied to the grid meaning that if you cannot generate enough solar energy, you can still rely on your utility company. One advantage is that you can sell excess electricity back to the grid though.
These installations are a combination of the two systems above. They offer the benefits of solar power by being self-reliant during power cuts. They can also draw electricity from the grid as needed.
Is a grid-tied solar system the most realistic choice still?
Any professional solar system installer will be able to calculate how many panels you require to cover your existing electricity usage. However, you may not have enough roof space or receive enough sunlight to make this practical.
Although solar panels are becoming more efficient, there is still space for improvement. The theoretical maximum efficiency for solar cells under the Shockley-Queisser limit is 33.7%.
For now, it would seem that a grid-tied system or a hybrid are the safer choices unless you live in an area that is blessed by large amounts of sunlight. Fortunately, for many, this is the case. One such sunny state, California, has decreed that 60% of all electricity must come from solar energy by 2030.
While the truth is that your home could be fully powered by solar energy, it will truly depend on the region you live in, and just how much electricity you use.
Even if a home is only partially powered by a solar installation, it is still helping to reduce the damage done to the environment. On a personal level, utility bills will be reduced too.
For those lucky enough to live in sunny climes all year round, a solar panel system could most definitely power a family home.