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5 ways to judge your solar suitability.

A record number of homeowners in the past two years have installed solar power systems on their roofs to generate electricity from the sun. There are now an estimated 600,000 solar installations in the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association® — and the millionth one is expected to happen sometime in 2015.

What’s behind America’s solar boom? Here are a few reasons, as stated by the Union of Concerned Scientists:

  • Dramatically lower solar power system costs due to new advances in the materials used to turn sunlight into energy
  • Increased state tax credits and incentives to install solar power systems
  • Rising electric costs

Before you get bids from licensed solar installers in your area, first do a little homework to see if you should seriously pursue this form of renewable energy:

  1. Know your stuff: If you’re interested in solar energy, you’ll soon run across the phrase “solar photovoltaics (PV). The “photo” part means light and “volt” is a common measurement of electricity. According to NASA, PV modules (composed of solar cells made of semiconductor materials) are mounted and electrically connected to the panels you often see on home and business rooftops. When light strikes the solar cells, electrons are knocked loose and are captured as electricity.
  2. Determine your solar energy savings: You’ll need to gather your electric bills for the last year or two in order to estimate how much you could save by switching to solar (contact your utility company if you need copies). First, calculate your currently monthly average cost. Then, plug that number, along with your ZIP code, into the free solar calculator at Costofsolar.com. The site will ask you a few questions about your home and roof, and then email you a report on what you’ll save.
    By understanding your consumption trends and making your home more energy efficient, you will be able to buy a smaller PV system and further lower your initial outlay and operating costs, according to the Department of Energy.
  3. Location is less important than you think: Don’t assume that you can’t install a solar system unless you live in sunny Arizona or California, because cloudy Germany is the solar capital of the world. If there is enough light to cast a shadow in your climate, Latest Solar News says that a solar system can still operate cost-effectively for you.
  4. The right roof helps: The angle and orientation of your home’s roof can also help you to determine your solar suitability. According to SolStats, a south-facing roof at a 35-degree angle (or pitch) is optimal for generating the most energy from a solar system — the least desirable is a north-facing roof that’s mostly vertical and wall-like. Even in the worst-case scenario, you still may be able to generate enough energy from solar panels to make it worthwhile. To understand your roof’s characteristics, you can receive a free report from SolStats.
  5. Calculate all your solar incentives: Rebates and incentives to promote solar to U.S. homeowners vary considerably by state, but all taxpayers can apply 30 percent of their out-of-pocket system costs as a Federal Solar Tax Credit through the end of 2016.Even some utility companies offer incentives, such as rebates and grants, as solar enables them to produce less energy. For a comprehensive view of all of your state’s solar incentives and policies, click on the map at DSIRE.com, an educational organization funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Some state rebates may be time-sensitive, so plan ahead before you decide to buy a system. You should also check with a tax professional to verify which costs are eligible for tax credits.

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