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Investing in the Future

Solar energy has come a long way since 1830, when British astronomer John Herschel famously used a solar thermal collector box (a device that absorbs sunlight to collect heat) to cook food during an expedition to Africa. 

Today, solar energy systems work when sunlight hits a solar photovoltaic module (solar panel or PV panel) and causes electric current to flow. The current produced from the PV panels is controlled and regulated by an inverter, which converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), needed for use by household appliances. A system that will generate 100% of your energy needs is extremely large and expensive, so most systems are sized to generate only a portion of your home’s needs.  

Roughly five years have passed since NFEC members Mike and Kathy McFall installed their residential solar panels. Mike said their motivation for investing in solar comes from a long-time interest in planning for the future. “We have always had a desire to be more self-sufficient, to make our home more energy efficient, and to ultimately lower our electric bill. Solar power seemed like a good move for our family.”

Thanks to their solar PV system, Mike and Kathy have seen from 12-40% savings on their electric bill. The couple has a stationary unit, but they are considering building a stand that will tilt with the sun to get them a bigger return on their investment. “It won’t have the ability to move and follow the sun simulating an actual sun tracker, but being able to tilt with the morning and evening sun will help increase savings,” Mike said.  

As prices decline and technology improves, installing a residential solar system can make sense for some consumers. State and federal rebates for installation can also help make a PV system more financially feasible, but adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and completing other basic fixit projects should be your first step in the solar process. “You can cut your energy costs immediately, and you’ll also be able to reduce the size of PV system you purchase,” Mike said.

Sunlight may look like an easy way to generate electricity, but there are some things to further consider. The sun only shines for a set number of hours daily, and cloudy or overcast conditions can wreak havoc on solar power production. “Expecting an immediate return on your solar investment is not realistic,” Mike said. “You really need to do your research and make sure that you pinpoint your long-term goals.”

Your electric cooperative should be one of your first contacts. Experts at your co-op can answer basic questions, provide resource materials, direct you to reputable websites, and might also maintain a list of reputable contractors and other experts in your region. Also, if you purchase a PV system, you’ll need to meet the requirements of your electric cooperative’s interconnection agreement and notify them in advance about your installation.

“If you’re considering putting in solar panels, or any type of ‘backyard’ renewable generation at your home, make sure to contact us first to determine the system meets our interconnection standards,” Chris Barton, NFEC’s Marketing & Key Accounts Manager, said. “At Northfork Electric, we want to be your trusted source for information about solar energy.” 

If you are interested in solar or any other renewable energy options, please contact the cooperative at 580-928-3366.

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