Solar Panels: What You Need to Know

Solar cells on a roof with sun flowers in the foreground

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In this day and age, most people have heard of solar energy. It’s no secret that solar energy is the most abundant renewable resource in the world today. Additionally, solar energy is also the cleanest energy source available. Most people know that solar panels are used to collect energy from the sun, but what else is there to know?

In this article, we’ll explore what solar energy is, how to harness this incredible resource, and give you some practical tips for installing your solar energy system. Whether you’ve been curious about solar energy for a while, or you’re just waking up to the benefits of implementing solar in your home, this article will walk you through the basics.

Solar Energy

Most everyone knows that solar energy refers to energy harnessed from our sun. But what does that mean?

Ultimately, our sun is the starting point for all forms of energy. But, you may find it surprising to know that humans have been harnessing the power of the sun for centuries. While early collection devices were not nearly as sophisticated as those on the market today, humans have been harnessing solar radiation since the 1800s.

Collection of solar energy is dependent on the sun’s radiation. This radiation comes from the sun’s rays and provides us with the heat that’s felt on a sunny day. Over time, humans have developed increasingly powerful technologies that can convert solar radiation into electricity.

Benefits of Solar Energy

benefits of solar energy
Image via BeOnSolar

As I’m sure you know, electricity is what powers our homes and the electronic devices we use every day. By utilizing solar power, we are able to effectively reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce air pollution.

In contrast to coal-generated electricity, solar energy systems have a very minimal impact on the environment. This renewable energy source provides “clean”  energy without hurting the earth.

Limitations of Solar Energy

Despite the immense benefits of implementing solar energy protocols, there are a few limitations.

One limitation is the inconsistency of sunlight. Because the weather, the seasons, and the time of day all affect how much sunlight reaches the earth solar energy collection can be adversely affected. Additionally, a large surface area is needed to absorb a useful amount of energy from the sun.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

You may be aware of the term “solar panel,” but are you know how solar panels harness energy from the sun?

In 1954, scientists discovered what’s known as the photovoltaic effect (PV effect for short). After these scientists observed the electric charge created by exposing silicon to direct sunlight, solar cells started popping up in calculators and on space satellites.

First Generation Panels

First generation solar panels are the most efficient. These panels are a flat plate in style and made of silicon. Newer technologies have flourished since the advent of the original solar cell.

Second Generation Panels

Second generation solar cells are thinner and more flexible than traditional panels can. These panels are incredibly versatile. These solar cells are made of amorphous silicon or materials such as cadmium telluride.

Third Generation Panels

The newest third generation solar cells are made from a wide variety of materials. Some third generation designs also incorporate a lens to concentrate sunlight in an increasingly small area. The small size of the panel is possible with the use of highly efficient PV material.

Although the advancements in third generation panels are impressive, they are also the most expensive. Additionally, for the concentration lenses to work correctly, they must be pointed directly at the sun. Accordingly, these panels only work well in the sunniest parts of the world.

Solar Panels for Home

solar panels for the home
Image via Electric Choice

There are many reasons to consider installing solar panels in your home. For many people, solar panels are an excellent means of utilizing clean and renewable energy. But, before investing in solar power, it’s vital to determine if your home is a good candidate for panels.

Energy Expense

Installing solar panels is an investment, and as such, there is a decent amount of up-front cost to consider. If electricity is very inexpensive where you live, it may not make financial sense to sink money into this technology. Generally speaking, if your electric bill is higher than $75 per month solar panels could be a good option for you.

Roof-Top Analysis

What material is your roof? Does your roof get a decent amount of sunlight? Is your roof in good condition or does it need to be replaced? These questions are fundamental if you are considering installing solar panels.

Solar panels work best on rooftops made of durable materials. Also, you should ensure that your roof is in excellent condition before installing new panels. Solar panels are designed to last for decades, and you should only install them on roofs in excellent condition.

The final part of your roof-top analysis is checking out how much sunlight your roof receives. Solar panels perform best on a south facing roof-top. Additionally, you should look out for how much shade covers your roof. Too much shade could prevent adequate energy conversion.

Solar Panels Cost

One of the first questions that many homeowners ask when considering solar panels is, “How much do they cost?” Unfortunately, there is not a single straightforward answer when considering the cost of solar panels.

When considering the cost of solar panels, many professionals advise looking at the price per watt installed as opposed to the value of each  panel. This method is used to compensate for variations in solar panel design among different manufacturers.

As you consider the costs of solar energy, remember that installing an efficient solar system will drastically reduce or eliminate your electricity bill.

Average Cost Per Watt

On average, solar panel consumers can expect to pay $0.85 to $1 per watt installed. It is essential to understand that the lowest priced panels will go almost exclusively to solar installation companies who buy in bulk.

In residential systems, panels typically have capacities that span from 250 to 360 watts. On the low end expect to pay about $212 per panel. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll see a price tag nearer $360 per panel.

Average Cost Per System

financial benefit of solar panels
Image via Energy Sage

As explained above, solar panel cost varies depending on numerous factors. Accordingly, the total cost of a home solar system is also variable.

The first consideration to be made when calculating cost is how much energy you need to run your home. Once you determine how many kilowatt hours of electricity your household usually consumes, you can get a better idea of how extensive your solar system should be. As you can expect, the larger the size of the system installed the more significant your overall price tag will be.

In the United States, most solar energy systems fall somewhere between 5 and 8 kilowatts.  Based on size alone, solar panels would cost anywhere from $4,250 to $8000. However, the price you pay for your complete solar system will also vary depending on available tax credits, installation fees, and other necessary equipment.

When you take other costs and tax credits into consideration, the average consumer can expect to pay $10,990 to $17,584 for a fully installed system.

Installing Solar Panels

As the popularity of solar energy has increased, so has the initiative to DIY your solar panels. While installing your own solar system may seem like a great way to save money, you should be aware that your options may be more limited. Additionally, this kind of installation is pretty complicated and requires a solid knowledge base.

If you decide to DIY your solar system, do your due diligence and carefully research what you are getting into first. Electrical work always comes with some inherent risks. It’s also good practice to contact your local authorities and inquire about required permits. In addition to your initial research, use these steps to construct your solar system:

  • Bury your electrical conduit and build your platform.
  • Mount the panels on the platform.
  • Adjust the array angle and secure the rear platform legs.
  • Wire the solar modules.
  • Connect exterior wires to interior control panels through the underground conduit.
  • Ground the system.
  • Finish indoor electrical connections.

Remember, this project will require special tools and teamwork. Do not take on this work lightly. If, at any point, you feel stuck or overwhelmed with a problem, ask a professional for help. In this precarious situation, you are much better off being safe than sorry.

Whether you choose to install your panels or leave the work to the professionals, a home solar system is an excellent investment. While the upfront costs are steep, the benefits will pay off for years to come. As a bonus, a fully functioning solar system will add value to your home in case you ever choose to sell.

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