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My house is covered by trees and shade. Should I go solar?

Francisco CastroMay 16, 20193480


Dianne in Bloomingdale, New Jersey posed a questions to the Sierra Club that might be familiar to other homeowners interested in putting solar panels on their property.

“We're considering a rooftop solar system, but we'd probably have to remove eight tall oak trees to get sun. Would it be worth the environmental cost of losing those trees and the many benefits they provide?,” she asked.

The answer to that question can be difficult.

“Some environmental benefits of trees, however, can be counted. A 30-year-old white oak absorbs some 60 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, while your state tree, the fast-growing red oak, can remove about 240 pounds, according to a U.S. Department of Energy calculator,” the Sierra Club stated.

“If your trees are around 30 years old, they could be soaking up from 500 to 1,900 pounds of CO2 a year, and even more as each year passes. Of course, you can't predict that they will all survive long enough to sequester a significant amount of carbon,” it added.

“How would solar panels compare? If your panels generated enough current to match the average household electricity use in New Jersey, you'd eliminate the equivalent of up to 10,000 pounds of CO2 per year, says the EPA's Power Profiler. So alas, it's "goodbye trees" if your only consideration is greenhouse gas emissions,’ the Sierra Club response concluded. 

Just like Dianne, perhaps it’s taken you a very long time and commitment to have the trees around your house grown and providing shade, but now you’ve decided to install a home solar energy system. What to do?

Shade is definitely a negative when it comes to solar energy production; heavy shade robs about 20% of power in comparison to what you’d get when photovoltaic (PV) modules don’t have any obstruction.

If the solar panels are connected to a string inverter and one or more of them is completely or even partially obstructed, they could bring down the energy production of the entire solar array. 

One way to resolve this is by installing microconverters that convert the DC power put out by solar panels into AC electricity used by appliances directly on each solar panels. This allows more flexibility in terms of how to position the modules and won’t affect the rest of them in an array. One solar panel cannot drag down the entire solar array’s performance.
DC optimizers work the same way and can be used in conjunction with string inverters to form a hybrid.

But shade doesn’t just diminish energy production. It can also damage solar panels. If some cells in the panel are not working the other cells work harder to try to compensate. As a result, the solar cells that are not in shade have a tendency to overheat and burnout. 

If there are tall trees or any other type of shade obscuring direct sunlight, energy program suffers. 

What should you do?

Tree shade is not uniform. The amount of shade depends on the density of the foliage. Trees and branches also move with the wind. And they grow over time. Those are all considerations that must be taken into account if there are trees between your panels and the sun. 

If it’s possible and convenient, trimming or pruning just a few branches may suffice. However, maximizing solar benefits could also mean cutting down a tree or two.

This may also help in the long run preventing damage to the solar panels should a branch fall. 

Another point to remember is to remove fallen leaves and debris often. Dust, grime and build-up on solar panels can prevent them from reaching their maximum capacity.

Another way to resolve the issue might be to position the solar array in a different part of the roof, in a different tilt to still get the most sun peak hours. Your solar installer should be able to recommend some options. 

If you don’t have an installer yet, you can find one after you check out the price of a home solar energy system that meets your energy needs. All you have to do is provide your address and your average monthly utility bill and the Hahasmart price checker will provide you with the actual price of solar panels and inverters - which are the most critical parts of a solar powered system - as well as provide you with an estimated cost of installation based on thousands of completed solar projects in your area. 

They’ll even provide you with an estimated buyback period, the point where the electricity savings cover the purchase of your residential solar panels and your system becomes free.

In addition, they’ll connect you with their installer network to get your residence equipped with solar power as possible.  

Ultimately, the decision of what to do with the trees is up to you and what makes sense both in terms or practicality and finances. 

The average cost to remove a tree ranges from $150 to $1,500 depending on species and size.  

If you do decide to remove a tree as part of your domestic solar power system project, the solar company can include the cost as part of the tax credits. 

According to Turbotax, ”you are allowed to include all costs necessary for the installation of your solar panels (including tree removal) as part of the cost basis in your home improvement.”

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