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How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Power My Home?
If “Power My House” means achieving a net zero electricity bill, the necessary number of panels can be calculated based on annual usage. A generic panel count can be determined for an “average” home in the United States, or a more specific answer can be determined for your home. Another approach is to determine how much solar energy you can produce. The latter is a simple question to answer based on the available sun-facing roof space of your home.
The commercial solar cells available today will likely represent the state of the art for years to come. Good solar panels made of monocrystalline silicon cells generate about 100 milliwatts per square inch (6.45 cm2). Commercial panels are available in a variety of sizes, 100 watts and up; however, the power generated per square inch remains around 100 milliwatts. The number of panels required may decrease, but not the area.
How much electricity does an average 2-story, 3-bedroom house consume per day, per month, or per year? The US Energy Information Agency has estimated that the average US home consumes 8,900 kWh (kilowatt hours) per year, or about 24 kWh per day. If this average home is in a climate that will produce an average of 6 hours of sunlight for maximum power output, each square inch of optimally oriented panels can produce 600 milliwatts per day.
Therefore, about 40,000 square inches (24,000 watts per day / 0.6 watt hours per inch per day) or 278 square feet of solar panels would meet household needs. If you buy a 100 watt panel that is about 6 square feet, an average home would require 46 panels.
These calculations are for a fictitious system but serve as guidelines. Your energy needs may be significantly higher or lower than the average value used above. If your goal is to reduce your electricity bill to zero, you only need to know the normal needs of your home to tell you if it is possible and practical.
Utility bills often show not only current month usage, but also previous months. Upon request, the company may be able to provide a total of 12 months. Alternatively, one can take meter readings every day for a week or even a month to include a few weekends when energy consumption is generally higher.
Since usage is generally seasonal, this needs to be taken into account. For most of the United States, winter typically represents the highest usage time; however, in some parts of the country, summers that require peak AC usage may represent peak usage.
For example, if your energy bills or meter readings show that your annual consumption is 12,000 kWh per year, a solar power system would require an array of 63 panels (47 x 12,000 / 8,900 = 63) of 100 watt panels. The roof space required would be 375 square feet.
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