Have You Considered ‘Going Solar’?
There Are Options, Whether You Live Off the Grid in a Rural Area or on the Grid in Town.

Annie Lindgren and Blaine Howerton

North Forty News

Solar panels capture energy from the sun and convert it into electricity used for various household or lifestyle needs. Here are two perspectives on ‘going solar,’ from a home owner’s perspective to a mountain dweller’s perspective.

Annie bought a home in Wellington in January 2021, and as an avid environmentalist, she immediately thought of adding solar panels. “Colorado has plenty of sunshine, and if I can capture that to power my house and give back to the grid, that feels like a better use of the funds that otherwise go towards my monthly electricity bill,” shares Annie. So she did her research and met the team at Next Energy Solar.

Blaine bought mountain property in 2017. With no connection to the grid, he knew solar would eventually be necessary. “The nearest power pole is about a mile away, the cost to bring power up the road would be exorbitant at best. Plus, there is something to be said about being self-sufficient with your power needs. I knew when I purchased the property alternative energy as a whole was a challenge I would willing to accept,” said Blaine.

Solar energy in town involves assessing electricity needs, installing the appropriate amount of solar panels for the household, electrical wiring, and connection to the power grid. Energy captured but not used gets sent to the grid. The homeowner has enough electricity to power their home, and any extra power gets ‘banked’ or refunded. One no longer has to pay for electricity or its taxes and instead pays for the meter (around 7$ a month). Right now is a great time to add solar power to your home because the federal tax credit for 2021 is 26%.

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Solar energy in rural areas is a bit different. With no grid to connect to, you are reliant on batteries to store your energy. You need a fairly hefty DC-AC power converter, A good solar charge controller, and high-capacity batteries. Lithium-Ion batteries seem to be the best choice these days — if you have to budget. The batteries and charge controller are often more expensive than the panels themselves. But once you buy the system, it’s yours, it’s self-sufficient. If you do well with your design, you won’t have to charge your batteries on cloudy days, unless you have power-hungry children, or you decide to fire up the Insta-Pot. Also, creating your own solar system is risky if you’re not a licensed electrician. You can start a fire. ALWAYS do your research, and it’s best to hire a licensed contractor to at least consult with you. In fact, it can save you money, so you don’t burn up an expensive piece of equipment by crossing a wire.

Solar panels are not free, of course. Annie found a great deal with a 1.99% interest loan. With a down payment, she could get her monthly payments to less than her average monthly electricity bill. “If I have to pay a monthly bill, I would rather be paying towards an investment that will eventually reduce my bills,” Annie shares. She plans to pay it off early with such a low monthly bill to avoid paying more in interest.  Blaine was able to put a portable system together for his RV for about the same cost of about two years of electric bills in his 800 square foot apartment. “I still have the cost of propane, for heating and the refrigerator, but the power bill is gone. With solar energy, I can now closely monitor the things I use. I know exactly how much power those things use and how long it’s going to take the panels to store it on my batteries. It’s a good feeling to know that I’m almost completely using clean energy every day,” said Blaine.

There are some downsides to an on-grid system. When the electricity is out on the grid, the solar panels also stop powering the house. This is because it is dangerous to send power to the grid when power companies are out working on downed power lines. There are no batteries on the system, which saves money on the overall cost, and you can add a generator to power the house when the electricity is out. The other consideration is that with the set-up there are steps involved that cause it to take a month or two to set up.

There are also downsides to an off-grid system. When you have several cloudy days in a row, and barely any direct sun, you need to have a generator going to store power to your batteries. “Generally, in my case, I can run the generator for about an hour and the batteries will last all night. On cloudy days, I turn off the power and let the batteries charge with indirect sunlight. It works for me since I’m not at home all day long anyway,” said Blaine. Adding batteries and solar panels into the system are options, which of course, adds more investment into the system.

We should note that in every case, you will want to do your research before you buy. This includes possible permits from the county and/or municipality in which you live. A licensed solar contractor will help you decide what you need for your situation, and the cost involved.

Now is a great time to get your solar panels. Call Paula (970-999-7608) with Wellington-based business Next Energy Solar to find out more and learn about current promotions. You can also reach out to your power company to find out what options they have to help you fulfill your dreams of a solar-powered home.

Originally published in North Forty News, October, 2021