Solar Energy

Solar Energy

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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A decade ago the idea of residential solar energy might not have sounded as amazing as it does now, while its numerous benefits have deserved its popularity in the last few years. People are enticed to use it due to an array of factors, including: greening up their lifestyle and helping reduce emission of air pollutants (that was one big interesting factor), and cutting their utility bills, which seems appealing to many. In such regions, costs could be cut for money as much as $300 per month on electric utilities, adding up to some great savings during these years. Well, if the notion of getting a solar powered house excites you and you are keen on getting more information about it, the following advice might be beneficial:

How ​Solar Energy Works

Solar Energy

For starters, it is worth mentioning that solar energy can be harnessed in two different ways. These could be the extraction of thermal energy which aids in processes such as cooking and water heating or it could be in electricity production. For the thermal energy, solar radiation is the key element whereas for electric energy production, light is of greater interest. Solar panels work by allowing particles of light from the sun called photons to knock off electrons from atoms which in turn generate an electric flow. Deep within solar panels are smaller units commonly called photovoltaic cells usually made of silicon. All these are linked up together such that with more exposure to the sun, more electric current can be generated from the solar panel which is then stored in a battery for later use. In home settings, inverters are used to convert the stored energy from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) which is what we normally use.

How ​Solar Energy Used Around Us

There are many ways you can use solar energy at home.

  • Powering Home Devices: The small devices at home that are presumed to consume almost no electricity do use a lot of it. Those phones, torches, power banks and even batteries can be charged using solar energy. However, solar energy could also power bigger things like your refrigerator. It all depends on how much energy you need at home.
  • ​Outdoor and Street Lighting: There are high chances that your street lights are powered by some form of renewable energy such as solar energy. In less urban areas, for example, it is far convenient to have street lights powered by solar energy directly. At home, people also use solar energy for powering outdoor electrical equipment such as security lights and even the electric fences.
  • ​Heating Water: Everyone cherishes a bath of warm water. When you have a large family, your electricity bill can skyrocket, especially if you are not relying on solar water heating and you have teenagers who cherish a long hot bath. With solar energy that bill becomes manageable, or even nonexistent, and your family continue to enjoy a good bath.
  • ​Solar Cooking: There are some solar cookers in the market which you can use to prepare your meals with. These cookers cook can be pretty sluggish as well, so don’t be expecting to have your steak ready in the next few minutes. In fact, depending on the type of meal you’re preparing, you might need hours to cook your meals properly. This could be ideal for camping events.
  • ​Supercharge Your Electric Car: If you have an electric car, you can always charge it after you’re back home. This is very cost effective since the same energy you’re using in your house is the same you’re charging your car with.


  • Sustainable and Renewable
  • Low Maintenance
  • No Noise Pollution
  • Environment Friendly
  • Affordable
  • Cost Efficient in the Long-Term


  • Requires Large Physical Space
  • Energy Storage Is Expensive
  • Cost of Installation is Expensive
  • Not Easily Installable by Everyone

How Many Panels Do You Need for Your House?

The cost of installing always varies from one person to another. This is because of different factors like the size of a house, the types of panels you want to use, how much energy you use in your household among other things. Things like the installation company you choose will also affect the total cost. Let’s look at these factors in detail and what they really mean

1. Your Roof’s Usable Surface Area

The shape and size of your house will determine how much you pay for set up. For example, a house with a flat roof which can accommodate large panels easily may require less tinier panels which leads to a cheaper cost. Equally, a house with a small usable area; either due to the shape of the roof or other factors, may require smaller panels which will translate to a more expensive cost since it’ll require more of them.

2. How Much Energy

A house that uses 300KWh per month and a house that uses 1000KWh per month will be billed according to their energy usage. The amount of energy you use will be calculated for you during installation. On the other hand, you too can get an idea of how much energy you require with a simple calculation. Just take your electrical bills for at least the past 12 months and add all of them to get the total amount of electricity you use in a year. Divide this sum by 12 to know what’s the average you spend in a month. You can go even further, by dividing the figure you get from above by 30 to get your daily average.

For example, if your annual energy is 4800KWh, you’ll divide this by 12 to know how much you spend in a month. Which is 400KWh per month. To calculate how much energy you use in a day, you’ll divide the 400KWh by 30 days and find out that your average usage per day is 13.3 KWh (Kilowatts per hour).

3. Weather in Your Area

If you live in a cloudy region, then there won’t be a lot of sunlight hitting your solar panels. This would require you to have more panels to increase the surface area needed to harness the amount of power you need for your use.

4. Types of Panels You Use

Solar panels are made differently, and that means you would have to choose one that best suits your needs. If you’re installing per square foot, the basic expected wattage is 2 Watts for every square foot. This means that a house of 1500 square feet will need about 3000 Watts. Depending on the type of panel used, this may equal 12-18 panels and translate to an average of 16 panels for the house. The price per watt is averagely $5.47. So, for a 1500sq foot roof, we would be looking at $16,400. Of course, this is a very subjective figure depending on the type of panels you use and even the company you hire. Some companies charge as much as $4,000 more. So before buying, compare the rates between installers in your area. It’s best to remember that the company that can pay most for advertising doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best.

Can You Install Your Own Panels?

It’s understandable to ask this question considering that the price from accredited installers can seem high. If you have an experienced person who’s skilled enough, he/she can help you with the sizing calculations, planning, and even installation. He/she could even design for you how you want to install the panels depending on the size of your roof. However, you are still encouraged to contact an accredited solar installer for wiring and metering of your energy consumption.


A comprehensive analysis should be carried out to ensure that you get the best system that suits the electricity requirements of your home. Asking if the manufacturer can provide replacements for batteries and light bulbs when you buy the appliance would be prudent. This is of great significance as you want to understand how that relationship will evolve in the future if you are tying the knot with that person today. On the other hand, if they don’t offer replacement, then, consider you call to cancel the service. Moreover, you should calculate your location and landscaping of your house.

People who live in the in flat lands that are not affected by weather, shade or other weather phenomena will have the best output of power generated from solar panels. Locations that get a lot of sunshine throughout the year are the most pertinent for solar energy. So should locations which are occasionally so bright like too sunny or have extreme weather changes, need an alternate source.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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