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Photovoltaics - Solar Energy FAQ

What are Photovoltaics?

Photovoltaics are solar panels that convert sunshine into electricity. They are also referred to as PV's.

Will PV's work for my home?

This depends on where you live, which way your house faces, and what your energy needs are. As a basic rule, you will need a roof facing south. The panels will work best if they are unshaded from 9am to 3pm.

How much do they cost?

Costs vary. It depends on the your energy needs, location and how much power you want supplied by the sun. Most 1kW PV systems cost between $5000 to $8000 before tax rebates.

This 'rule of thumb' of approximately $8000 per kW is slowly changing. Some states offer rebates that can pay up to 70% of this price. You could also try our solar calculator to get a ballpark figure.

Is it worth it?

Right now, in most situations, solar electricity costs more than the grid. However, if you live outside the grid, solar electricity can be less expensive than running cables to the grid.

As well, most solar panels are warrantied for 25 years. This allows you to fix your energy prices for 25 years. Grid power cost may go up, and your solar electricity remains the same.

And power prices are rising. Another important point is that when you add solar power to your house, you are also adding value to your house.

This often means that the money spent on solar power not only saves you money, but increases your house resale value. When calculating the solar return on investment in this way, often solar power makes a profit from day one.

What is the breakeven point?

One way to calculate the breakeven point is when the cost of the PV system is equal to the amount of money it has saved you in power bills. At this stage, it has paid for itself, and the 'free sun power' begins. For an average solar electric system, this takes 12-18 years.

This doesn't take into account that power prices could rise dramatically (similar to the price of oil in recent years.) This would shorten your breakeven time. Also, you could look at the value that the solar panel system has added onto your house. This, on paper at least, can bring the breakeven time even lower.

Other factors that influence this time including local sunshine hours, the cost of the system and the tax rebates your state could provide.

Solar Panel Efficiency

Shop-sold PV's range from 5-19% efficieny. That means that the panel turns between 5-19% of the sunlight that strikes it into electricity. Naturally, the more efficient the panel, the better.

However when evaluating panels, don't forget to factor in price. Two slightly less efficient panels might make more power for less cost than one super-efficient and very expensive panel.

Photovoltaics are steadily increasing in efficiency and decreasing in price.

Solar Electric Overview

Photovoltaics are a clean way of obtaining power. They produce electricity without noise, waste or pollution. They use only sunlight for power, and are relatively maintenance free once they have been installed.

While in most cases, PV's are not immediately cheaper than grid power, they do offer significant benefits. They are a long term investment. This means they offer long term benefits - power bill savings, home value improvement and independence from rising power prices.

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