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Published on July 23rd, 2010 | by krissbergethon

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5 Easy and Affordable Ways to Start Using Solar Power

solar system on home in menlo park california

There is so much talk of green and clean energy these days, most people have at least thought about how they can use solar in their lives.  The problem is that with a tough economy and bleak jobs market, most people just don’t have the money to invest in solar.  Here are 5 cheap and easy ways to start using solar power that won’t break the bank.

1.  Affordable Grid Tie Kits Are Here For The Handy Homeowner

Thanks to rapid advancements in inverter technology, you can install a solar grid tie kit* on your home for far less then ever before.  It used to cost at least $10,000 to install a small system on a home.  But using micro-inverters and 200W panels, homeowners can install a single panel and inverter for about $1000 and start to reap the benefits of free energy from the sun.

Many homeowners are adding panels on a regular basis, on Earth Day, or as their budget allows.   The new technology allows you to add on to your system as you wish, without spending a fortune.  You could start with a 230W system, add a panel every 3 months or as your finances allow, and have a 4000W system that covered your entire power bill in a few years.

2.  Solar Leasing Programs Often Cost You NOTHING

Now that solar has gone mainstream and is a viable investment, companies like SunRun have leasing programs to help homeowners get started in renewable energy.  Here’s how it works:

  • A local installer works with a solar financing company like SunRun to evaluate the suitability of your home for solar.
  • If your situation is right, the financing company will pay the installer to put the panels on your home, usually at zero cost to you.
  • The financing company owns and maintains the panels, and receives any rebates associated with the installation.
  • You get charged a fixed, discounted rate for your electricity for the life of the lease, usually 20-25 years.
  • You save money in the short term in the discounted and fixed rate, plus you won’t experience the sharp rate increases that are inevitable as carbon taxes and renewable subsidies become more prevalent.
  • You can choose to purchase the system from the financing company and reduce your energy bills to nearly zero.

Best of all, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you are saving money AND helping the environment at the same time!

3.  Simple RV, Boat & Golf Cart Systems Keep You Charged Up

Many people forget that they are various uses for solar panels.  Boats, RVs and even golf carts are great uses for solar.  Solar panels generate direct current, or DC power, which is what most boats and RV’s need anyway.  Adding a simple panel and charge controller to the system will keep the batteries charged, save the expense of charging those batteries, and allow you stay out longer and go farther.

In most cases the panels will allow you get rid of the generator or shore power you relied on before.  For folks in southern climates that use golf carts in lieu of traditional vehicles, a 200W solar golf cart kit means you can say goodbye to the power cord and hello to lower energy bills.  Starter kits can be as little as $100, the larger units are over $1000.

4.  Take Your Stuff “Off the Grid”

It was not that long ago and that the components in solar power systems were so complicated that using an electrician to install them was a must.  That is not the case these days (and thank goodness for that!).  Simple ‘plug and play’ solar power kits* now allow you to gather, store, and use the sun’s energy easily.  They work much the way a computer does, you simply plug the panel into the control box (like you would a computer monitor), and then plug the control box into a battery (like you would plug the computer into the wall).  Then, start plugging your stuff into the control box.

This is a great system for remote cabins, work sheds, or garages.  Often people that live in hurricane country keep them for backup power when the inevitable outage comes.  They’re great for campers and travellers too that have added laptops, iPhones and stereos to their ‘can’t live without’ list when they’re in the back country.  These kits can be had for as little as $300 and can be expanded for your future needs.

5.  Make Your Space Brighter and More Comfortable With the Sun-Powered Products

Unfortunately solar lighting has gotten a bad rap by the proliferation of those poorly made solar garden lights.  There are, believe it or not, great solar lights out there that are high quality and look terrific.  Many communities are doing away with the gas lamps that appear on every front lawn because they are expensive to run and maintain.  A nice solar lamp post light can replace the gas lamp, spruce up your yard, and cost less than $200 in most cases.

There are also tons of affordable options for heating and cooling your home with solar. Solar air heaters have recently become more popular, and they have the added benefit of using recycled cans in many cases.  There are even solar air conditioners now, too.  These use the sun to heat the medium in the cooling process, whereas traditional AC’s use electricity.  These new solar AC’s are about 50% more efficient than their traditional counterparts.

So solar doesn’t have to be out of reach for everyone.  With a wide variety of applications and prices, solar power can help you save money and the planet.

Kriss Bergethon is a Solar Power expert and author from Colorado.  For more information visit his site at Solar Panels. Kriss originally published this post at Calfinder’s Residential Solar Power Blog.

Looking for other inexpensive solar options? Check out our current listings of solar batteries, solar fountains, and solar pool heaters.

*Links to pages in the sustainablog Green Choices product comparison engine

Image credit: mjmonty at Flickr under a Creative Commons license



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  • http://frugalinalabama.com Ginger

    After just receiving a $500 electric bill, I’ll be doing some reading of options and trying to incorporate them in my own home. I am so frugal in so many areas of my life that it makes me physically ill to have received such a high bill.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise. I may know how to slash bills in other areas and share that on my blog but I had to go blog hopping to find someone to teach me some new skills. THANKS!

    Ginger

  • Pingback: SUNfiltered : Fresh culture daily. » Blog Archive » Bottled tap water to fund scholarships at UT-Austin

  • Diana Bray

    I look forward to the day that I can install a solar air conditioner in my car for when I travel with my dog during the summer and need to leave the car for any period of time. Having a solar-powered heater would allow him to stay in the car during the winter if I need to stop for a meal, as well. Keep up the good work! I was delighted to find your site.

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