Across the globe, millions of people power their homes and heat their water with clean, abundant, renewable energy from the sun. Solar energy systems have been around for decades. But in the United States, their acceptance has been slow because of their high upfront cost.
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What’s in It for You
Residential solar energy systems fall into two categories: solar electric systems and solar hot water systems:
- Solar hot water systems, also called solar thermal systems because they capture heat, can provide hot water for kitchens, bathrooms, laundry, and other household uses. They can also be used to heat homes, pools, and hot tubs.
- Solar electric systems, also called photovoltaic (PV) systems, convert the sun’s energy into electricity that can power buildings.
Not every household can benefit from a PV or solar hot water system. If your electricity or water heating costs are extremely low, or if you have too much shade on your roof or property, a solar energy system may not make sense.
But for many people, the energy savings from a PV or solar hot water system will eventually save money, after you’ve recouped the system’s initial cost. In addition, the system can lock in your energy costs, giving you a hedge against future energy price increases.
Although most solar homes still use some fossil-fuel energy, it is possible to meet your home’s entire energy needs with solar electric and solar hot water systems. And as plug-in hybrids and electric cars become more available, someday you may be able to run your car on the sun’s energy.
Solar energy systems may even increase the value of your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a solar energy system may add $10 to $20 to your home’s worth for every dollar in energy costs saved in one year. For example, a system that reduces energy costs by $500 per year might add $5,000 to $10,000 to the home’s value. An added bonus: solar panels can help extend your roof’s life by protecting it from ultraviolet rays and weather.
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