by Jessica Ramer – May 2, 2012 3:00 AM
South Florida, with its nearly year-round sun, is the perfect location for clean, quiet, renewable solar energy. Solar energy is not only eco-friendly, it is great for post-hurricane power outages. Because this form of energy can be a bit expensive, going solar — in whole or in part — requires careful planning.
1. Decide if solar power is really for you. Visit the website sponsored by the Solar Energy Industries Association and use its calculator to help determine how much your solar project will cost you. A South Florida family hoping to obtain 25 percent of its power from the sun typically spends at least $8,000. If you want to go totally solar, the cost will likely be more than $40,000. If you are in the market for a solar hot water heater, you may spend about $4,500. In contrast, a basic electric water heater may be purchased for less than $250.
2. Take advantage of tax credit and rebates. The federal government offers a tax credit for installing solar panels or solar water heaters. An additional incentive is that Florida does not charge sales tax for solar-powered equipment. Remember, too, that you will recoup part of your investment through reduced electric bills. According to Alan Towsley of Sunworks, a family of four will typically use enough hot water to pay for the cost of the system within three to seven years.
3. Reduce your energy usage. You will need to purchase fewer electricity-producing photovoltaic cells if you use less power. Replace standard light bulbs with LEDs, which last longer than standard bulbs and use less power. Unplug items you rarely use, as they consume power even when they are turned off, and invest in good insulation.
4. Do your homework. Research the process of going solar carefully so you know what you may reasonably expect. Get bids from at least three fully licensed companies. Also look into tax credits and rebates from your power company that can make financing the project easier.
5. Think small. Consider buying simple, low-cost solar devices for your home if you are not ready to invest in big-ticket items. You may purchase a good solar cooker for about $300. With a solar oven, you can bake without heating up your entire house — and running the air conditioner to counteract the heat. Another useful item for hurricane-prone South Florida is a solar battery charger for cell phones and laptops. Prices vary by photovoltaic cells used, but some are available for less than $200.
Here are some experts in the area who may be able to help you get started.
Broward Solar Inc.
1090 N.E. 48 Court
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334
Broward Solar, a family-owned business with more than three decades of experience, specializes in standard water heaters and pool heaters for both homes and businesses.
Miami Water Heater
1324 N.W. 29 St.
Miami, FL 33142
This full-service, family owned company has been in business since 1949. In addition to offering conventional water heaters, it also features a full line of solar water heaters and storage tanks.
22251 S.W. 87 Place
Cutler Bay, FL 33190
Established in 1982, Sunworks is a fully licensed and insured solar contractor. This company offers a full line of solar products, including hot water heaters and pool heaters. It also installs photovoltaic cells for people who are looking to go off the grid altogether.
Article by Jessica Ramer
A certified math teacher who has taught at both the high school and community college level. She currently resides in Fort Lauderdale. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.