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Solar power

Solar power

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A simple array of 36 solar panels stands in a field. As the panels harness radiant light and heat from the bright yellow, beaming sun, the energy is converted into electricity that powers a nearby home.

Going solar was an easy choice for these homeowners, who installed geothermal heating and cooling several years ago. Adding the ground-mounted solar array was the next logical step in their quest toward green living.

“We are concerned about the environment. Solar is clean, renewable energy, and solar power has reduced our utility bills,” the homeowner said. Solar energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reduces dependence on fossil fuel and utility providers.

Rabe Hardware of Vinton and Blairstown, experts in solar installation, installed the array a year ago.

“We’re very happy with it, and we have had a good experience with Rabe. Having a net-zero home is one of the main reasons we wanted solar energy,” said the homeowner, who has electric vehicles on order.

In the last 10 years, solar technology and durability has improved dramatically and the cost of installation has dropped more than 70 percent. Jake Rabe describes solar as both “energy-efficient and economical,” and the cost savings over the years are considerable. Payback for the investment takes an average of 4 to 7 years. Homeowners also can take advantage of available federal and tax incentives and savings.

Here’s how solar works: Solar panels contain solar cells that use semiconductors that convert light into electrical energy. Direct current or DC electricity is produced, routed underground to an inverter and converted into alternating current (AC) which is used in everyday household systems and appliances. Meters measure the amount of electrical energy produced by the panels and monitors the system. The electricity passes through the utility grid.

The number of solar panels required for a ground-mount or roof-mount system depends on a variety of issues, including energy usage. “Each system is custom-designed to fit a customer’s utility use, and you have to consider future usage,” Rabe said. “Over-designing a system does nobody any good.”

Panels also can withstand hail and rain storms and heavy winter weather. Rabe offers a 25-year panel warranty and a 12-year inverter warranty.

Orientation, exposure and tilt of the array impact energy collection. For example, orienting a solar array due south will provide the highest energy output in Iowa. East or west orientation shows a 15 to 20 percent drop in performance while arrays oriented to the north will have an energy generation reduction of 30 to 45 percent compared to a southern-facing array.

Iowa has solar “net-metering” policies that allow consumers who generate some or all of their own electricity to use the electricity at any time, not just when it’s generated. The home is connected to the electrical grid via poles and wires, allowing electricity to flow both ways – from the grid to the home and from the home to the grid through bi-directional metering.

“Any over-production of energy from the system is stored, and the homeowner can use that stored energy when needed, such as in the winter,” Rabe said. Electricity produced by the solar system is sent to the utility provider to help power other homes and businesses. The utility offers a credit that can be used by solar homeowners at times when production is low, such as winter months or when it’s cloudy or rainy.

Although installation takes about a day, there is a considerable amount of engineering and design done in advance, as well securing permission from the utility company and proper permits. The entire process takes from four to eight weeks.

Homeowners can use a mobile app on their smart phone or PC to keep track of real-time energy production and usage. Rabe is the only solar provider to guarantee the power production of their solar system. If it doesn’t produce the amount of energy it supposed to produce, Rabe will pay the difference and add additional panels to increase production to where it needs to be.

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