American homeowners are increasingly relying on the sun to meet much of their hot water and electricity needs. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, residential electricity produced by solar in the first quarter of 2013 was almost 10 times higher than that generated in 2008.
That's a huge upswing, but the potential for more is what's really impressive. So what's stopping more folks from going solar?
Ketch Ryan, who had a solar energy system installed in her Maryland house several years ago, told the AP: "We found that a lot of people were afraid to go solar because they were too afraid of what they didn't know."
To help neighbors, Ryan co-founded a cooperative, Common Cents Solar, "to make sure we didn't have to reinvent the wheel. We can do it together and we can do it more efficiently."
First up: get your roof assessed to see whether it's viable for solar. The roof's condition, material and angle are among the considerations (note that it need not be south-facing).
Cost, of course, is what holds most people back. Installing a solar array can cost several thousand dollars. Leasing models, which have spread across much of the country, have opened up solar to a whole new slice of homeowners.
Even if you go solar, the electric company will remain a necessary part of your life (as backup for days with minimal sun, or when you're using more electricity than your solar system can produce).
But when you're producing more electricity that you can use, most states allow you to put the excess back into the electricity grid for use by others. Called net metering, it will show up as a credit on your bill.
"You're seeing your meter going backward," Ryan said. "That's fun."
Photo: A residential solar array installed on the roof of a home in Bliss, NY. (Solar Liberty / Flickr)