The Solar Panel Basics


Everything You Need To Know About Solar Panels

According to the Institute For Energy Research, as of July 2014, 90.5 percent of energy used in the United States came from nonrenewable sources. This alarming number translates to trouble for many Americans. Without a reliable source of sustainable energy, we will soon run into trouble in regards to energy for our home. Enter solar panels, a sustainable energy option that is affordable for many homeowners. Homeowners that have solar panels have an affordable and easy way to power their homes, and they might be able to make a little profit off of it, too, by selling the excess energy to power companies. Just make sure you know the basics of solar power before spending absurd amounts on putting panels on your home.

How It Works

Solar panels convert energy from the sun into the energy we can use around our homes. They do so by absorbing the photons released by the sun and changing them into the electrons needed to fuel our homes. They are usually placed on the roof of a home or somewhere on the property with optimal sun exposure. The positioning of the panels definitely matters. If you are in the northern hemisphere, which includes the United States, you should face your panels true south. The tilt should be similar or equal to your latitude. That way, your solar panel catches the most amount of sun possible. If you have tracking panels, which track the position of the sun throughout the day, you don’t have to worry about the positioning. You can receive up to 10 percent more energy in the winter and 40 percent more energy in the summer because of their ability to rotate to face the sun throughout the day.

Types Of Solar Panels

There are four main types of solar panels that are suitable for a regular home:
  • Monocrystalline Silicon: Currently the most efficient type of solar panels, these panels are ideal for roofs. You can use less of them because of their high efficiency. However, though they do convert more sunlight into energy, they are also more expensive.
  • Polycrystalline Silicon: With less silicon than Monocrystalline panels, these panels are cheaper to produce. You lose some efficiency, but their unique, weaved wire construction can mostly make up for that.
  • Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV): Though these panels can look prettier (they can often be shaped as roof shingles, so they don’t stand out much), they do cost more, are less durable, and are less efficient.
  • Solar Thermal Panels: These panels are playing a completely different ballgame. While the other panels are geared towards jumpstarting your home’s electricity, these keep your hot water going.

How It Can Save You Money

If you currently do not have some sort of electricity generating device in or on your home, you are probably paying an electricity company. With a solar panel, you will be able to produce most, if not all, the electricity you need to keep your house up and running. In some cases, you might even make money by selling back the stored energy you don’t use back to the energy companies. However, this all depends on what type of solar panels you purchase and where you are located. For example, someone who lives in Seattle and has BIPV panels should expect to receive less savings than someone who has Monocrystalline Silicon panels and lives in sunny southern California. You should also keep in mind that the upfront costs can make a dent in a savings account, and it might take a while to recover the cost. According to HGTV, the average upfront cost of a 6.25 kwh system is $50,000. However, by installing a system, you can also get a 30 percent federal credit and local rebates for your system. The payback period after these incentives is anywhere between five to 10 years.

Should You Get Solar Panels?

Here are the most important factors you should consider when buying solar panels:
  • Time: Do you plan on living in your home for a while, or just for a few years more? The resale value of your home will go up with solar panels, but you will reap more of the benefits if you live there and are saving on electricity.
  • Cost: Not everyone has $50,000 to just drop on solar paneling. Though there are payment plans available, check your finances to make sure you can afford the extra monthly payment.
  • Type: If you’re going to invest in solar paneling, you’ll have to decide on the type. The more expensive ones put a bigger dent in your wallet, but have a faster payback period.
  • Location: Some areas of the country get more sun than others, and while it is always advantageous to have solar paneling, the payback period will most likely be longer in areas with less sun.
Though solar panels are an investment, the benefits often outweigh the cost. In the end, solar panels are good for the environment and your wallet.
Date of original publication:
Updated on: November 10, 2015

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