The Right Climate for Solar

While it makes good sense to install solar panels in a place known as the Sunshine State, you don't have to live in an ultraviolet stronghold to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy. Fact is, the affordability of installing panels depends more on local utility rates and incentives than on the amount of sunlight you get. For example, a standard 2-kilowatt system in New Mexico produces 25 percent more electricity than the same system in Massachusetts. But the energy savings are greater in the Bay State, since electricity rates are so much higher there.

And if you don't like the idea of huge panels on your roof, you can also buy "building-integrated photovoltaics," or BIPVs, which seamlessly integrate solar cells into slate, metal, fiber-cement, even asphalt roofing. The shingles get installed over new or existing roof sheathing, then an electrician or trained roofer wires the units together and ties them into your home's electrical system.

Free Hot Water

If solar panels are more of a commitment than you're willing or able to make, consider harnessing the sun's power to heat your water. John and Diane's ProgressivTube passive solar water heater is a self-contained system with a solar collector panel and an integrated 40-gallon storage tank. You can also get solar systems that act as preheaters for conventional or tankless water heaters. A typical passive solar water-heater setup costs $4,000 to $6,000, though tax incentives and rebates might be available to offset the price. And thanks to the energy savings, you'll recoup your investment in as little as five years. How's that for keeping on the sunny side of life?
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