I would really love to go solar. Unfortunately, I live in a condo with exceptionally inflexible and arbitrary rules (curtains must appear white from the outside, you need permission from downstairs neighbors to install hard flooring in the entryway), so it’s unlikely to happen in the near future. Alas, the sunny south-facing patio would be the perfect site for a small patio solar panel system to meet my modest energy needs. In researching solar for myself, I came across some other criteria that might be helpful to people actually in a position to install solar:
Geographic Location. I was surprised at this one. Germany is one of the world leaders, if not the world leader, in solar technology. I’ve been to Germany. The sun didn’t shine once the entire time I was there. But apparently, although you can generate a heck of a lot more solar power in California, you can still harness solar power effectively in less sunny climes. Which means that solar power in the UK is not someone’s idea of a bad joke, which means that solar power is available to you, wherever you are.
House Orientation & Shading. The direction your house faces is crucial to the success of your solar panel system. South facing roofs are ideal; east and west are pretty good, and north is substantially worse. Flat roofs are fine. But here’s the kicker — you need unobstructed access to the sun for most of the day. Solar panel design is such that even minor shading means sharp energy production loss, so you’ll need to make sure there are no trees, buildings, pipes, or anything else between your solar panel system and the sun. (Note: do not take hacksaw to neighbor’s heritage oaks.)
Site Size. You’ll need at least 100 square feet of unobstructed roof space for every 1kwh of energy production. Crystalline technology is more efficient than thin film; allot more space for thin film.
Energy Savings. Unless money isn’t an issue, you’ll probably consider a solar power system an investment. Sure, solar is cool and helping the environment rocks, but when it comes down to it, most decisions to go solar are based on economics. Your returns will be highest if your energy bills are relatively high now and if your energy company will buy your excess power back. (As this is the way it works in Germany, it’s no surprise that homeowners have taken advantage of solar!)
Like many people, I admit to being directionally challenged and also have no desire to spend a day on my roof to see what the sun exposure is like. This is one time when it’s a good idea to bring in an expert. Several solar power companies, including Premier Power in California, offer free solar evaluations that can help you make a smart decision about solar.