7 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Solar Energy System

Reader Contribution by Sarah Hancock
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Having a solar energy system can help you to reduce your carbon footprint and cut down your electricity bill. However, you may not be getting the most optimal results by having a solar system on its own.

Whether you’ve installed solar panels for financial or environmental reasons, the following recommendations can help you use your solar energy system more effectively and get the most out of the power it produces, which will allow you to pay off your system faster, pull less power from the grid, and potentially even create a surplus of energy to sell back to your utility.

1. Install LED lights

Older light bulbs use only a small percentage of the electricity they take in to make light while the rest of the energy is lost as heat. Modern LED bulbs, on the other hand, use almost all of the electricity they take in to make light. In fact, a good LED light bulb only needs about a tenth of the electricity as a traditional light bulb to produce the same amount of light, so they aren’t pulling as much energy from your solar system to light your home.

Additionally, because LEDs are so much more efficient, they last much longer than incandescent bulbs. This means that replacing the lights in your home with LEDs will pay off quickly.

2. Purchase smart thermostats

Smart thermostats, like other smart devices, allow you to remotely control your home’s temperature via mobile or internet-connected devices. Many smart thermostats allow you to program the temperature to change based on the time of day, and some can even learn your habits and automatically create energy-efficient heating and cooling schedules based on how you typically adjust your thermostat.

Installing smart thermostats in your home will allow you to keep a close eye on how much energy from your solar power system you’re using to heat and cool your house, as well as when you’re using it, so that you can easily make adjustments to conserve energy.

3. Check windows and doors

In many homes, a significant amount of heat and air conditioning is lost through windows, doors, and roofs because these are the areas that typically have small gaps where air can escape, as well as enter from the outside. You can combat this and reduce the strain on your solar energy system by installing double- or triple-paned windows, replacing old weather stripping, and/or applying caulk. You can also insulate and save energy by adding thick drapery to windows.

4. Invest in smart plugs

Even when appliances and electronics are turned off, they can still suck quite a bit energy from your solar power system if they are plugged in. According to The New York Times, a washing machine can use 4 watts per hour when plugged in and turned off, a cable box can use 26 watts per hour when turned off and not recording, and a laptop can use 48 watts per hour when closed and charging. If you do the math, those three devices alone can drain 1,848 watts per day, more than 55,000 watts per month, and over 674,000 watts per year just by being plugged in.

If you don’t want to worry about constantly plugging and unplugging electronics and appliances, you can purchase smart power strips or smart plugs, which allow you to control and cut power to devices remotely through a mobile app.

5. Use ceiling fans

According to the Department of Energy, heating and air conditioning takes up about 48 percent of a home’s energy budget on average. This means that your HVAC system can easily use up most, if not all, of the energy produced by your solar panels. While ceiling fans won’t heat or cool the air in your home, they can circulate the air and make rooms more comfortable while using significantly less solar energy.

For the most noticeable results, set your ceiling fans to rotate counterclockwise in summer, which will distribute cool air around the room, and switch the fans to rotate clockwise in winter, which will help push warm air down from the ceiling into the room.

6. Consider battery storage

The price of solar batteries has dropped significantly in recent years and is expected to continue to fall, making them increasingly attractive to homeowners. While solar battery storage is still a developing technology and may not be the best option for every solar system owner at this point in time, it can be a very beneficial option for those who frequently experience grid blackouts or are subject to time-of-use electricity rates from their utility company.

With a solar battery, your home will be able to run off of the clean solar energy stored up in the battery at night or during power outages.

7. Be conscious of energy use

When you leave a room, take care to turn out the lights. When you’re finished using an appliance or electronic, turn it off and unplug it. Simply being aware of the ways you consume electricity and making minor adjustments when you notice you’re using more than you need to is one of the best ways to make sure that the energy produced by your solar power system is being used as effectively as possible.

A proponent of renewable energy and green living, Sarah Hancock enjoys writing about sustainability and manages thesolar blog on BestCompany.com. You can also find her work onTwitter.

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