In a perfect world, clean, renewable solar energy would power our houses and workplaces. We’d all pull the plug on oil, gas, and coal-fired power plants, reduce our carbon emissions and our dependency on electric utilities, and save both the planet and our money.

The good news is that we’re getting there—slowly. In 2018, 96.1 terawatt-hours of solar-generated electricity were produced in the US. That’s about 2.3% of the country’s total electric energy. 

Unfortunately, though, we’re not yet in that perfect world where solar is a realistic option for everyone. Given the state of today’s technology and the cost of the necessary equipment, how can you determine whether your home or business is a solar power candidate?

The first step is to consider the costs of solar when compared to traditionally-generated power in your area. You’ll need to know what your monthly energy consumption is and the rate you’re currently paying. You’ll need to get an idea of what a solar installation would cost. And you’ll need to know how those costs might be defrayed by federal, state, and local incentives for solar power.

Next, find out whether there are any legal or contractual restrictions on installing solar power at your home or business. Some homeowners’ associations place restrictions on solar installations and many municipalities have building codes that require permits to be obtained.

Once you’ve determined that solar is financially and legally feasible, the final step is to see if your roof is large enough, sunny enough, positioned properly, and strong enough to support solar panels. The best situation is a roof in good condition with no chimneys, skylights, or other obstructions. Ideally, the roof should be pitched at about thirty degrees and face the south or southwest. But even if your roof doesn’t have that orientation, you can still install solar, even on a roof that faces east or west. It’s also important to consider whether there’s anything that might block the sunlight from hitting your roof, such as nearby trees or tall buildings. Google’s Project Sunroof is a terrific tool for figuring out the size of your roof and the optimal configuration for solar panels.

One thing you don’t have to worry about too much when you consider solar panels is the climate and weather where you live. Interestingly, solar panels actually work more efficiently in cold weather. Of course, snow can be an issue, but the heat reflected back by the panels themselves may melt or loosen any snow that accumulates on top of them.

If all systems go for solar panels, the final step is to go shopping for the best solar energy systems available in your community. Remember as you shop that many solar companies offer financing and lease arrangements that make your investment in a solar future easier to make. 

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