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Ways solar panels can save the planet and save you money

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Movoto/Megan Radich

With the global capacity for solar energy production more than doubling every year, the question of whether or not to jump on this growing trend is one that homeowners are being faced with on a more regular basis. This has become especially true with the rise in the number of companies offering to outfit homes with solar panels at little to no cost to the owner--with some caveats we’ll get to in a moment.

With that in mind, we decided to take a look at what you stand to gain from going the solar power route. As it turns out, there’s quite a lot. Some of the biggest benefits beyond contributing to a greener planet are:

  • The federal government and some states offer large rebates for installing solar
  • You can eliminate your monthly electric bill
  • If you don’t use all the electricity you generate, you can sell the surplus to utilities
  • Excess power can be used to charge electric vehicles for free
  • Installing solar panels can increase the value of your home

Of course, having solar panels installed on your home is still a pretty pricey endeavor. Even though the price per watt of photovoltaic panels -- the most common -- has dropped more than 20 percent since early 2010, the system required to power the average American home still runs more than $55,000. Fortunately, like we mentioned above, going solar actually costs less than the initial sticker price thanks to some nice financial incentives from the government.

You can get a solar power system installed for next to nothing, but the companies that provide them do so in exchange for signing an equipment lease and turning over government rebates and a cut on any extra energy produced.

Let’s take a closer look at the upsides of solar power.

When Going Green Earns You Green

Using the handy and popular calculator available here, you can get an estimate of how much it would cost to install a solar power system capable of providing enough energy to run your home. What’s more, it’ll provide some insight into how much you’ll be able to take off the rather sizable cost for hardware and installation right off the bat.

In most cases, this includes a 30 percent federal tax credit based on the gross cost of setting up the system. In addition, the state you live in will have its own form of rebate. In California, for example, the rebate amounts to several hundred dollars. In some states it’s in the thousands. You can see a breakdown of federal, state, and utility-offered rebates in this nice table.

Beyond getting a good chunk of the upfront cost covered, you’re actually able to sell electricity you generate to your utility company in some cases. This often takes the form of a credit that accumulates throughout the year and becomes a nice payout depending on how much you have to sell.

Say Goodbye to Your Bill

In most situations, installing solar power on your home doesn’t entirely liberate you from the power grid. After all, you need a way to send the excess power to the utilities and without some rather large and expensive batteries there’s no way to store power for later use. Even though you’re still connected to the power company, the amount of energy you’re generating can more than take care of your needs, so you’ll no longer be paying an electric bill.

For many households, this can mean a savings of hundreds of dollars per month, especially during the summertime when electricity usage is higher.

Power More Than Just Your Home

Installing solar panels can not only let you bid adieu to your home electric bill, but also some of the cost of operating a car -- if you’re willing to go all-electric for your transportation. That’s because if you’re producing more electricity than you need to power your home and decide to invest in a fully electric automobile like the Tesla Model S or Nissan Leaf, some of that extra juice can go to charge your car without incurring any charges from a utility.

If you switch from a fossil fuel powered car, the savings each month can reach into the hundreds of dollars depending on how much you drive. Even if you had an electric car to begin with, you stand to save money -- and the environment.

Sparking an Increase in Home Value

According to a nine-year study conducted by the Department of Energy, installing solar panels on your home can produce an average increase in its value of $5.50 per watt of energy generating capability. For a system capable of generating 3,100 watts -- the average in the study -- it amounted to more than $17,000 of added value.

Considering that the cost of having solar panels installed is nearing the $5.50 mark in the U.S. depending on the company you contract to do the work, you’re actually looking at adding nearly as much value to your home as you’re spending on adding the panels. This is in addition to the other benefits we’ve discussed, which really sweetens the deal.

Plus, like we said earlier, this is all in addition to the considerable benefits that switching to solar power can have for the environment. In fact, based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the use of solar power reduces oil consumption on a global basis by 75 million barrels annually and keeps 35 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. This number is only growing as countries like Germany, the No. 1 user of solar power on the planet, continue to expand their capacity.

All in all, it’s a win-win deal in the long run -- for your pocketbook and the planet.

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The Movoto blog is a service of Movoto Real Estate.

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