Today’s solar panels are less expensive, more powerful, and ready to take on Minnesota winters
Although you might think a solar-powered home is much better suited to the sunbaked expanses of Arizona than Minnesota’s snowy north country, that’s not actually true. In fact, the North Star state is surprisingly well suited for turning solar rays into electricity for your home. Plus, with a 26% federal tax credit and rebates from state utilities, a solar-panel array on your roof is a good investment today and in the long term. Here are the facts:
The average 5-kilowatt (kW) rooftop solar-power system produces 15,232 kWh of power a year. That’s enough energy to offset the typical $150 a month electric bill. Over the system’s 25-year lifespan, you can save up to $49,944*.
A 5-kW system is about $12,494* to purchase and install. The federal government’s 26% solar credit brings that down to $9,916*.
Of course, you don’t need a weather report to know that Minnesota is not exactly a sunbelt state. So, there’s no doubt that your snowbird neighbor down in Winslow, AZ is getting more juice from their solar system than your frosty array in Brainerd†. That, coupled with the lower cost of conventional energy in Minnesota, means it could take up to a decade to see a full return on your investment.
Whether solar power is the right choice for you depends on several factors:
- Latitude and longitude of home
- Position of home relative to the sun, i.e., north or south facing, etc.
- Presence of shade from trees, hills, or tall buildings
- Prevailing weather patterns
To get a better idea of how solar panels would perform for your home, check out the PVWatts Calculator developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. After you do that, read on for a quick primer on the kinds of solar panels available to homeowners.
*Source: Solar Estimate, a non-profit organization that helps consumers estimate the cost of installing solar panels. Their calculator was created with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
†Solar panels actually work more efficiently in the cold than in the desert heat.
Types of Solar Panels
All solar panels are made from a semiconducting material that converts light into electricity. Silicon semiconductors are the most common, but lower-cost thin-film panels use a range of materials. See the chart below to compare the three major kinds of solar panels.
What’s the Best Solar Panel for Your Home?
Monocrystalline take up the least amount of space and are the most efficient. Polychrystalline, due to lower efficiency, require more space to produce the same power output as mono. Thin film panels are a good choice if your roof can’t bear a lot of weight. Ultimately, your choice will be determined by your budget, location, roof structure, and your energy producing goals.
What’s What with Watts?
A watt is the amount of energy that an electrical device burns every second it’s running. So, if your solar panel produces about 320 watts in an hour, that’s enough energy to keep your refrigerator cool and humming for 7.5 hours.
A Short History of Solar Power
Think of solar power as a space-age invention? When American inventor Charles Fritts installed the world’s first solar panel on his New York City rooftop in 1884, the streets below were still teaming with horses and buggies. Although remarkable, Fritts’s gizmo didn’t produce much power. Only 1% of the sunlight falling on those selenium cells was converted into electricity. Barely enough to power Thomas Edison’s new-fangled invention—the lightbulb. So, it’s no wonder that solar power languished beside far cheaper, exponentially more efficient fossil-fuel energy. It wasn’t until late 1950s when Bell Labs invented silicon cells for NASA that solar cells crept up to 6% efficiency. As concerns about global climate change escalated in the 1990s, solar energy found new purpose. With investments in research and development, today’s solar panels can convert more than 20% of the sun’s rays into useable electricity and are 90% less expensive than those sold a decade ago.
Some Solar Empowering Readings
Learn more about the pros and cons of powering your home with solar energy by visiting these pages:
Resource for calculating if solar energy is cost effective in your area of Minnesota.
Homeowners Guide to Going Solar
Fact-filled overview from the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.