Solar Panel 101: Capturing Sunlight for Your Home
Should you be on the hunt for a basic guide to solar energy under the title Solar 101, you’ve landed at the right spot. Embracing solar is a stellar move to cut down on electricity bills and diminish your carbon emissions.
This guide aims to furnish a comprehensive overview for all those pondering the solar route; it encompasses all essential knowledge required when venturing into solar power.
Solar Panels Basic: What's It and How Does It Work?
Solar panels are devices that convert sunlight into electricity. There are mainly three types of solar panels available today: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film. All of these are composed of many smaller units called solar cells, which are usually made of silicon.
Here’s a simplified step-by-step illustration of how solar panels work:
- Sunlight Hits the Panel: The Sun shines its light, which is made up of tiny particles called photons, onto the solar panels.
- Energy Transfer: When these light particles hit the solar cells in the panel, they transfer their energy to the materials in the cells.
- Electron Movement: This energy jolts some tiny particles (electrons) in the solar cells, making them move around.
- Electric Current Creation: The moving electrons create an electric current, which is like a flowing river of tiny particles.
- Electricity Collection: This electric current is collected and can now be used to power anything that runs on electricity, like your home or gadgets.
Solar panels are often linked together to form solar arrays and are installed in sunny locations to maximize their electricity production. A large-scale installation of solar panels is often called a solar farm.
The electricity generated can then be used directly, stored in batteries for later use, or fed into the grid.
If net metering is available in your areas, you can apply for this program to reduce electricity bills.
Net metering helps you to account for these seasonal differences in solar production by crediting you for the excess electricity your panels produce so that you can use it at a later date. With net metering program, you don’t need to install an expensive battery storage system.
Solar Panel Voltage and Output
The voltage and output of a solar panel are crucial metrics that determine how well a solar panel can meet your electricity needs. Here’s a brief overview:
Voltage: The voltage of a solar panel refers to the electrical potential difference between its terminals.
It’s often related to the number of solar cells connected in series within a panel.
Common nominal voltages for solar panels are 12V or 24V, though higher voltages are typical in commercial and utility-scale installations.
Output (Wattage): The output of a solar panel is the amount of electricity it can produce under standard test conditions (STC).
It’s calculated by multiplying the voltage by the current (amperage) the panel can produce.
For example, a 300W panel can produce 300 watt-hours of electricity under optimal conditions each hour.
Solar Panel Cost & Financing
The cost of premium monocrystalline solar panels typically ranges in price from $1 to $1.50 per watt.
Consequently, the cost of a single 400-watt solar panel falls within the range of $400 to $600.
While less efficient polycrystalline panels are generally more budget-friendly, priced at around $0.75 per watt.
The number of solar panels needed can vary greatly depending on the location, the energy efficiency of the home, and the energy usage patterns of the household.
The cost of installing solar panels can be substantial. A standard US home typically needs around 20 solar panels to cover the monthly bill.
Transitioning to solar energy can entail significant initial expenses, which is why many individuals turn to solar financing options to avoid huge upfront costs.
Solar panel loans can be obtained from lenders such as banks, credit unions, or solar installers. Each lender may offer different terms, fees, and interest rates. A solar loan will offer the lowest interest rate.
Moreover, opting for a solar loan to purchase the system ensures that you have ownership of it. Being the owner enables you to claim the Federal Solar Tax Credit for transitioning to solar.
A solar lease or PPA may not require upfront costs and yield a lower ROI since the solar panels on your property are owned by the solar company, allowing them the privilege to claim the Federal Tax Credit for themselves.
A solar loan typically increases your debt-to-income ratio as it contributes to your monthly debt payments.
For instance, if you had $500 in monthly debt payments and $1,500 in monthly income, adding a $150 solar loan payment would increase your Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio from 33% to 43%.
Which financing option is better? Solar loan or solar lease?
In most cases, opting for a solar loan is a better choice as you own the solar panels, which allows you to claim the benefits of solar tax credits.
A solar lease might be the right choice for you if:
- You don’t qualify for the federal solar tax credit.
- You don’t qualify for SRECs.
- You don’t meet the criteria for a solar loan.
Read more about the difference here.
Solar Panel Installation
Installing solar panels needs several steps and some careful thinking to make sure they work well and safely.
It’s good to learn the basics of solar energy and see if it fits well with your place. If needed, look into ways to pay for it, like the solar financing options we mentioned above.
Pick a trustworthy solar installer or think about doing it yourself. Most of the time, people hire experts or general contractors to install solar panels.
An expert will come over to check your roof, electrical setup, and collect other important details needed for designing and setting up the system.
Get the needed permits from your local officials.
Finish up the paperwork for the solar setup, which might include plans for the system design, warranties for the solar panel and system, a maintenance schedule, and other important documents.
Solar Panel Cleaning & Maintenance
Cleaning solar panels is key to their long-term performance. Solar panels generally demand minimal maintenance apart from occasional cleaning and ensuring they remain free from shadow-casting obstructions.
With regular cleaning and maintenance, you can avoid many problems and issues with solar panels. Typical, the lifespan of a well-maintained solar panel ranges from 25 to 30 years.
Using the right solar panel cleaning tools can extend the lifespan of your solar system and save you a significant amount in repairs.
But make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the cleaning of solar panels, as using inappropriate cleaning agents or tools could damage the solar panels or void the warranty.
If unsure, consider hiring a professional solar panel cleaning service, especially if the panels are mounted high or in hard-to-reach areas.
Solar Panel Applications
Solar panels have a wide range of applications, both in residential and commercial settings as well as specialized uses.
Here are some common applications where solar panels make a significant impact:
- Rooftop Solar Systems: The most common use, where homeowners generate their own electricity and can even sell excess power back to the grid.
- Solar Water Heaters: Solar thermal systems can heat water for household use, reducing the need for gas or electric water heaters.
- Solar Outdoor Lighting: From garden lights to security lights, solar-powered options are available.
Commercial and Industrial Uses:
- Solar Farms: Large-scale installations that generate electricity to be distributed to users.
- Solar-Powered Ventilation: For large buildings, solar power can assist in running ventilation systems.
- Off-Grid Locations: In remote industrial sites like mines or construction sites, solar power can be more practical than running long electrical lines.
- Electric Vehicle Charging Stations: Some stations use solar power to offset electricity costs.
- Solar-Powered Boats and Vehicles: Experimental vehicles and boats are using solar panels for part or all of their power needs.
- Solar-Powered Desalination: In some regions, solar power is used to desalinate water.
- Portable Solar Generators: For camping, emergency power, or any situation where you need electricity on the go.
- Space Satellites: Many satellites use solar panels to generate electricity in space.
- Solar Street Lights: More cities are adopting solar-powered street lights.
- Rural Electrification: In remote areas, solar power systems can provide basic electricity needs.