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How Many Solar Panels Does It Take To Run A House?


While there are many factors involved in determining how many solar panels you need to power your house, a basic formula is available. Gregg Garrison, general manager of Northeast Solar in Hatfield, MA, gave the average homeowner some guidance on the number of panels needed to power both electric and hot water.

How many solar panels to supply an average household?

Garrison said the typical home is about 1,500 square feet, with electrical costs of around $100 a month. Generally speaking, such a house needs about 16 panels to fully cover the electrical needs. If you are looking to heat water for the average family of four, two solar thermal panels would be needed, Garrison explained. “The average hot water consumption is offset by about 70 percent.”


What’s the difference between photovoltaic panels and solar thermal panels?

Photovoltaic panel cells produce electrical power by converting solar radiation (sunlight) into electrical current. Photovoltaic (PV) cells are made from a variety of materials including various types of silicon, arsenic and selenium. Solar thermal panels are a closed tube system containing an antifreeze-like solution. Solar thermal panels absorb and transfer solar heat to hot water tanks. Garrison recommended that for the use of solar hot water, electric hot water tanks work best.


What affects the number of solar panels necessary to power your house?

Depending on the location of your house–north / south or east / west, you should have more or less sunlight to turn to solar power. The other main factor is how much daylight your home gets. Ask a specialist for your home evaluation. You will use devices like a Solar Calculator to calculate how much sun your home receives in a year, which in effect shows how much power you have been able to generate. A special tool will also be used to measure shade and solar exposure.


How does the number of panels affect “payback?”

In total, it takes about six to eight years to pay back installation costs for the average home (and 16 panels), according to Garrison. However, some power companies allow you to contract to sell excess power to be fed back into the grid, saving you even more money over time. Over the years, solar panels have dropped significantly in size. Seven years ago, a 50-watt panel’s overall cost was $215, or $4.30 a watt. A 50-watt panel now costs $75 or $1.50 a watt for you.

But the most inexpensive part is the panels themselves. The cost of solar system components such as inverters, wiring, and mounts can be an average of $6,500. For deployment, licenses, and inspections, you also need to factor in fees. The average homeowner will pay $2,000 to $5,000 to install a suitable solar panel system that includes permits and inspections.

If your home is especially gloomy and you’re not willing to take down the surrounding trees, payback time will take almost double.


A note about government incentives

Homeowners are currently able to take advantage of a number of federal and state grants to cover part of the cost of the program. Federal solar incentives have been extended on a phased step-down basis until December 31, 2021.


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