Solar energy systems are one of the most well-known “green” energy solutions for residential properties on the market. Almost everyone is familiar with the traditional roof-mounted solar power panels. However, in recent years, solar systems have become more compact and efficient, allowing for more portable solar power solutions—some of which can even be set up by non-experts.
Portable solar power for renters can help them save money on their monthly utility bills. But, there’s more to using solar panels on rental properties than saving a bit of money on utility bills.
What should renters and landlords/property managers know about using a portable solar power system for homes?
Here are some of the most important things to know about portable solar power:
1: What Affects a Portable Solar Power Panel’s Energy Generation?
Solar power is one of the most plentiful renewable energy sources known to man—as long as the sun exists, solar power will continue to be available. However, there are limits on the amount of energy that a portable solar power system can generate.
The power generated by a solar energy system varies depending on several different factors, including:
- The Efficiency of the Solar Energy Cells. The overall quality of the portable solar power system plays a major role in the amount of energy it can generate. Lower-quality energy cells won’t convert sunlight to power as efficiently, so their overall output will be lower.
- The Current Temperature. Ambient temperatures can have a significant impact on the efficiency of solar energy cells. As noted by altestore.com, solar cells “tend to produce higher voltage as the temperature drops and, conversely, to lose voltage in high temperatures.” Basically, colder environments may improve efficiency while warmer once reduce efficiency.
- Where the Solar System is Placed. Solar panels tend to work best when they are installed in places where they can get as much sunlight as possible—such as the roof of a building. Solar panels installed at the ground floor level may be blocked from getting sunlight by obstacles such as buildings or trees. The facing of the solar panels may also affect how much power they generate throughout the day. As noted by Energy Informative, “solar panels should be faced south in the U.S.” because this angles the panels in the direction where they’ll capture the most sunlight throughout the day.
- Age of the Solar Energy System. The efficiency of most portable solar power systems will degrade very slowly over time. According to Energy Informative, the rule of thumb “is that the power output drops by 0.5% every year.” At this rate, it would take a decade to see a 5% drop in efficiency. So, the age of the system is usually a very minor factor—systems old enough to have lost a significant amount of power generation are usually obsolete already.
- Solar System Maintenance. Solar panels on rental properties actually require little in the way of major maintenance. The most common maintenance requirement is that the solar panels will need to be cleaned off once every month or so. This is because dust/dirt accumulation on the panels blocks sunlight from reaching the solar cells in the panel, reducing their output.
These are the major variables that affect the energy output of a solar power system for home use.
2: Can Renters Install Portable Solar Power Systems without Approval?
The answer is: it depends. Odds are, the lease agreement blocks renters from making “significant” or permanent changes to the rental property—such as drilling holes in the roof to support the framework needed for a solar panel installation. However, depending on the terms of the lease agreement, they may be able to install smaller portable solar power panels in the yard of a single-family rental property.
In most cases, if a renter wants to install a portable solar power system on the property, they should check with their property manager/landlord first to see if it is allowed. Or, they may want to ask if their landlord is willing to install a larger solar energy system on the premises.
Another way that property managers and renters can get in on solar energy is to join a community solar group. As noted by Energysage.com, “Community solar refers to a scenario where you are ‘going in’ on solar with a group of people, often in a community or neighborhood, in order to benefit from the financial payoffs and emission reduction but without having to put the panels on your own roof.” Here, the renter or property owner pays a fee to help cover the cost of installing solar panels in a communal area and running power supply lines to the community solar group’s members in exchange for access to cheap solar power without making heavy modifications to the rental property.
Because community solar systems don’t require modifications to the property, Energy Sage’s article states that “Community solar requires no conversation with your landlord whatsoever.” However, it is probably prudent for renters to inform the landlord/property manager that they’re considering joining a community solar power system.
3: How Much Money Can Portable Solar Power Save?
This is one of the most common questions about portable solar energy systems. However, it is also difficult to generalize about the answer, since the rules of solar energy systems may vary from one state to the next, and tax incentives for installing solar power systems may also change from year to year.
For example, it is possible for solar energy systems to generate more energy than the household actually consumes during the day. In some states, these excess kilowatt hours can be “sold” to the local power company for a credit that is applied to the utility bill for that property. The value of this credit depends on:
- The amount of excess energy generated by the solar panels above the household’s energy consumption;
- How much the power company charges per kilowatt hour; and
- Local regulations regarding solar energy credits.
Additionally, to qualify for these energy credits in the first place, the solar energy system needs to be connected to the power grid—a standalone solar power system that is not connected to the power grid cannot redistribute excess energy, after all.
Naturally, the more robust the solar power system is, the more energy it generates. This translates into larger savings on the utility bill—but it also means a larger initial installation cost.
Ultimately, the decision to install a permanent or portable solar power system for a rental property should be made after carefully analyzing the costs and benefits of the system—much like a property manager would for any significant rental property upgrade.
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