You have taken the first step in the right direction by reading this article. Well done! Here you will find everything you need to know about residential solar panels.
You may be considering going solar for a variety of reasons – to save the environment, save money, get freedom from the grid, or power your mobile or remote home. Irrespective of your intentions and motivations, you cannot go wrong with this decision.
So many doubts and questions must be popping into your mind right now about the practical aspects of embracing solar technology. In fact, this is a good thing. It will prompt you to find out more about solar panels, how they can help, and how you can get the best possible deal out of them.
This article is a comprehensive guide for first-time solar panel buyers. Here you will find everything you need to know about solar technology and solar panels, including the challenges you may face later on. Here you will find answers to every one of your questions spanning the planning stage to disposal of discarded solar panels.
Let’s begin at the beginning by understanding solar technology.
What are solar panels and how does solar work?
Solar panels convert the light energy in sunlight into electricity using the photovoltaic effect. The photovoltaic effect is the generation of voltage and electric current in a semiconductor material when exposed to light.
Semiconductors are materials with conductivity lying somewhere between that of a conductor and insulator. In semiconductors, electrons are typically not free to move from one atom to another within the material. However, when light strikes a semiconductor material like silicon, the extra energy provided by light helps to free some electrons from the bondage and prompts them to move freely.
This phenomenon is made use of in a photovoltaic cell. A PV cell consists of two dissimilar semiconductors – p-type and n-type – joined together to form a p-n junction. The n-type is negatively charged with a free electron and the p-type is positively charged with “holes” or deficiency in electrons.
When light falls on the n-type semiconductor, the extra energy provided by radiant energy helps in freeing the electrons. The freed electrons jump across the p-n junction to the positive side. If these electrons are directed back to the n-type externally, it is possible to create a continuous flow of electrons in a single direction. The flow of electrons constitutes an electric current.
A solar or photovoltaic panel is a sealed and pre-wired arrangement of solar cells in a protective metal frame. It has non-reflective tempered glass in the front to protect solar cells from damage. Multiple solar panels are arranged together to form a solar module or a solar array.
Benefits of installing home solar panels
Solar panels help us to harness the free and clean energy we receive from the sun. Scientists tell us that if we manage to harness one hour of sunlight received on earth entirely, it is enough to meet the energy demands of the entire world for a year.
However, the benefits of solar energy are not confined to these aspects alone. Here are some more reasons why you should go ahead with your solar installation.
- Less impact on the environment
- Reduce your carbon footprint
- Save money on utility bills
- More reliable than the grid
- Access to electricity even in remote locations
- Freedom from the grid
- Negligible maintenance costs
- Qualifies for incentives and rebates
- Increases the property value
- Opportunity to earn money with net metering
- Comes with guaranteed performance
Types of solar panels
Depending on the semiconductor material used, solar cells vary vastly in their ability to convert light energy into electrical energy. These are the three types of solar panels in use.
1. Monocrystalline cells
This is the original and the oldest type of solar cell. Pure silicon crystals are used to make these PV cells. The silicon crystal is placed in a vat of molten silicon, pulled out, and allowed to cool to form an ingot. It is then sliced into thin wafers that are used in the manufacture of the solar cell.
Monocrystalline solar cells are black and square-shaped with corners cut off. In a monocrystalline solar panel, there will be gaps between the solar cells.
2. Polycrystalline cells
Pure single crystals of silicon are harder to find and hence expensive. In an effort to bring down the cost of solar panels, scientists came up with an alternative. Polycrystalline cells are also made from silicon crystals but not single ones. Fragments of silicon crystals are melted together and then placed in a vat of molten silicon. It is then cooled in a mold and sliced into wafers.
Polycrystalline solar cells are blue and square-shaped without cutout corners. In a polycrystalline panel, there will be no gap between the solar cells.
3. Thin-film cells
These are the latest innovations in the solar industry. In the endeavor to bring down the cost and make solar technology accessible to all, scientists are coming up with newer solar cells. Thin-film cells are made from a variety of materials – cadmium telluride (CdTe), amorphous silicon (a-Si), and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS).
In thin-film solar cells, a thin layer of one of these materials is placed between thin sheets of conductive materials and the arrangement is secured with protective glass on top. Thin-film cells are 350 times thinner than the other two types of solar cells. However, together with the frame, they may look as bulky as the other two. They may be black or blue depending on the material used.
|Most expensive||More affordable||Cheapest|
|Made from pure silicon||Made from fragments of silicon||Made from a variety of materials|
|Heavy and adds considerable weight to the roof||Heavy and adds considerable weight to the roof||Thin and lightweight|
|Needs to be fixed using mounts||Needs to be fixed using mounts||Offers the choice of mounting, “stick-on”, and as shingles|
|High cost of installation as it needs expertise||High cost of installation as it needs expertise||Lower cost of installation as it is easier to install|
|Longest lifespan 25-30 years||Shorter lifespan 20-25 years||Shortest lifespan 15-20 years|
|Black||Blue||Black or blue|
|Square with cut corners||Square or rectangle||Square or rectangle|
|Efficiency ~20%||Efficiency ~15-18%||Efficiency ~7-11%|
The solar panels are made up of several key components, each playing an important role in the panel’s performance. Our guide to the six main solar panel components will help you understand how your solar panel works and how to keep it running efficiently.
How to choose the best solar panels for your home?
Having more choices is usually good but it can be confusing at times. And, solar panels are no exception. With each passing day, newer technologies are being developed to make solar energy more affordable, efficient, and attractive to buyers.
Once you have decided to go solar, the next step is to figure out your expectations from the solar system. You may ask yourself these questions and find answers for them.
- Why am I considering solar energy?
- Am I considering going solar partially or completely?
- What is the energy expectation from the installation?
- How much am I expecting to save on utility bills with this installation?
- Is my roof big and strong enough?
- Is my location suitable for solar energy?
- How many panels do I need?
- How much will it cost me?
- Do I need to find financing for the purchase?
- Am I thinking about DIY installation?
- Which type of solar panel is ideal for me?
- Which brand to buy?
- How to find a reliable solar company?
- What is the warranty?
To calculate your energy consumption, you can take an average of your past year’s consumption from utility bills. Or you can add up the watt-hours of all major electrical appliances at home.
If you are considering DIY installation, you need to have at least a basic level of expertise with electrical wiring and fixing mounts. Often warranties offered by manufacturers are rendered invalid by self-installation. If you are unsure, find a certified solar company for solar installation. In the long run, this may save you from unnecessary expenses.
You can ask for recommendations from family and friends about which brand to choose or which solar company to hire. This always works out better than finding a random brand or solar company by searching online. If you have no option, you may do a thorough online check, reading up reviews from various sources before making the choice.
Things to consider when installing solar panels
Although solar panels have become more affordable, easier to install and last for years, buying solar panels should be done after considering various ground realities. Such as the condition of your roof and the availability of sunlight.
Here is a checklist of things you should consider before going ahead with the purchase.
- Is your roof strong enough to carry the weight of the solar panels and mount?
- Does your roof need repair?
- Is your roof slope facing the sun?
- How many hours of sunlight will the roof get on average?
- Is there an arrangement for rainwater drainage?
- What other extreme weather conditions can happen in your location?
- Do you want to stay connected to the grid?
- Is the net metering arrangement available in your location?
- What are the procedures for both?
- What is the time taken and fees involved for grid connection?
- What is the import and export rate for net metering?
- Is it cash or credit for exporting energy via net metering?
- Did you check all the choices available to you, vis-a-vis, brands and solar companies?
- Did you verify the credentials of the solar installer? Did you ask for a reference?
- Did you go with the cheapest option?
- Did you read the fine print in the warranty?
- Are you considering insuring the solar panels?
- Are you aware of the rebates and incentives available?
- Are you considering installing it by yourself?
- Are you aware of the maintenance involved and ensuing expenditure?
Yes, this is indeed a long list. Again, installing solar panels is a major investment and you need to understand what you are getting into before taking the plunge. Weighing the pros and cons of solar is vital to avoid surprises later on. It is better to invest some time now to figure out the answers to these questions than be unpleasantly surprised later on.
How to find the right size for your home solar installation?
Choosing the capacity of the residential solar panels needs much consideration. From some of the answers to the questions listed above, you can arrive at this by yourself.
The first step is to figure out your monthly energy consumption. You can do it by extracting the energy consumption from utility bills for the past year and finding the average. Or else, you can add up the energy consumption of each appliance in your household.
Once you have this figure, you need to decide whether you want to cover the entire energy consumption or choose a partial arrangement. For instance, if your monthly energy consumption is 1000 kWh, you can choose a solar system of the same capacity or you can choose one with 400-600 kWh and manage the rest by drawing energy from the grid.
If you are choosing a partial off-grid solar installation, you need to be aware that you still need to stay connected to the grid and you will continue to get utility bills despite having a solar installation.
If you choose a solar installation to cover your entire energy demand, you again have the choice to remain connected to the grid.
Off the grid
If you are choosing to go completely off the grid, either by choice or by compulsion (if you are staying in a remote location far away from the grid), you need to consider these points.
You should account for peak energy demands as well as an increase in energy demand in the future when computing the capacity of the solar installation. To account for this, you can add 20% to the present energy consumption calculated earlier.
Moreover, you need to account for sunlight available only during the daytime. This means solar energy installation can generate electricity only when the sun is shining. In other words, you need to account for your nighttime energy demands.
The ideal way to meet this demand is by installing a solar battery. A battery can store the excess energy produced during the daytime and you can draw from this at night. The best solar batteries in the market are from Tesla, Enphase, Generac, and LG Chem.
Another choice available to you is a generator. A diesel-powered generator can provide you energy whenever the solar system is falling short in energy production, especially at night. However, having a generator powered by fossil fuel defeats the purpose of your goal is to save the environment.
Another popular choice to meet the nighttime energy demand is to opt for a net-metering arrangement. Most states offer this facility but the rates vary from state to state. In this, a bi-directional meter is used to connect to the grid. It records the amount of energy drawn from the grid as well as the energy exported.
Whenever the solar system is not generating sufficient energy, the deficit is met by the grid. On the other hand, when the solar system is generating surplus energy, this is exported to the grid. This can help you avoid the extra expense of a solar battery.
Before you choose this, you need to be aware of the import and export rates of energy as well as whether you will be paid for the exported energy in credit or cash.
Cost of solar panels and installation
This solar power calculator will give you a rough estimate of the number and cost of solar panels you need to meet your energy demand.
To calculate the average cost of solar installation, you need to take into account various factors. They are
- Capacity or size of the system
- Type, quality, and brand selected
- Orientation and complexity of the rooftop
- Your location
Cost of solar panels by system size
|System Size||Average Solar Panel System Cost (Before Tax Credits)||Average Solar Panel System Cost (After Tax Credits)||$/W|
Cost of solar panels by state
|State||Solar Panel Cost: 6 Kw System Average||Solar Panel Cost: 10 Kw System Average||2022 Federal Tax Credit Value (For 10 Kw System)||Average Cost Per Watt ($/W)|
You need to remember that the table above is giving you the average cost of solar panels. The solar market is vast enough to offer you high-end solar panels to mid-range, standard, and cheap ones as well. The entry of Tesla solar panels has shaken up the solar market considerably. They promise to offer the best at affordable prices.
Besides the cost of purchasing the solar system, you also need to account for labor charges in installing it and getting the necessary permits and interconnection fees. The installation charges can be anywhere between $15,000 and $25,000, based on your location, the installer’s track record, and the warranty offered.
However, by availing of the federal solar tax credit, you can bring down the cost by 26%. This will reduce to 22% in 2023. This benefit may be extended or phased out in the future. All the more reason to go solar without any more delay.
The investment tax credit (ITC) is not the only incentive available to solar buyers. To promote renewable energy and to meet the carbon emission goals states and local governments are also pitching in with their own incentives. All these are in addition to the rebates and discounts offered by manufacturers and solar companies.
Maintenance and warranty of solar panels
Solar panels are built to withstand extreme weather events for years without getting affected. Their durability ensures that the solar panels can continue to function efficiently without much maintenance. The lifespan of solar panels ranges from 15 to 30 years depending on the type of material chosen.
As solar panels do not have moving parts, their maintenance is also minimal. All that needs to be done is to keep the surface of the solar panel clear of dust, dirt, and debris. If it rains often enough, it should be sufficient to keep them clean. Or else, washing them down with water would suffice. If the panels are not easy to access, you may have to hire someone for this.
The easiest way to monitor whether your solar panels need maintenance is by installing a solar monitoring system. When you notice that the energy output is going down, you can investigate the reason and rectify it.
Despite all precautions, things may go wrong. Falling tree branches or heavy hail storms may damage the panels. To protect solar buyers from further expenditure, manufacturers offer warranties. These are typically designed to cover replacement and repair costs.
Warranties offered by solar manufacturers vary vastly with some offering guarantees for efficiency and performance. Power output warranty assures that the efficiency level won’t fall below a specified level over the warranty period.
Related: Solar Panel Maintenance Checklist
How to find the best place to buy solar panels?
Most homeowners choose to purchase solar panels for home from top solar companies. These are authorized distributors of major solar brands and are certified by the manufacturers to install their products. However, you are free to buy directly from solar panel retailers, both through online and offline stores. If you choose to buy solar panels online, you may have to find an installer or go for DIY installation.
Choosing a solar company
An overwhelming majority of the solar installations are done by solar companies. These entities have the certification and authorization to sell branded solar panels as well as install them. They are familiar with the incentives, rebates, and policies so that they can guide you well through the process.
You may choose between a national or local solar installer. While a national solar company may have more choices on offer, a local one will be more aware of the local rules and regulations for solar installation.
It is always advisable to get quotes from at least 3 solar companies before making the decision.
Hiring an installer
In case you want to cut down the installation costs, you have the option to buy from an online or offline store and hire someone locally to install solar panels. You can choose to fix the mounts by yourself or hire someone for this. You can get the help of an electrician to complete the wiring and hook it up with the main switchboard.
In case you are opting for grid connectivity or net metering, the utility company will most probably do the work for you free of cost. If you are hiring someone to install solar panels, ensure that they have the necessary qualification, licenses, experience, and expertise to carry out the task.
If you are taking this route, you may still have to deal with getting the necessary permits.
DIY Solar Panel Installation
If you feel competent enough to do all the work by yourself, you can save a lot of money by choosing the DIY route. You should have more than basic knowledge of various aspects of solar installation, besides knowledge about the incentives and rebates. You also need to work on the permit all by yourself.
Be warned that this is not an easy route to take. Moreover, most brand warranties are rendered invalid if the installation is carried out by an unlicensed and unauthorized person.
It is highly recommended that you take the help of solar companies for purchase, installation, and maintenance. Solar energy systems, being a high investment purchase, the extra expenditure incurred towards hiring the services of a solar company, is money well-spent.
If you resort to cost-cutting, you may regret it later on. Following all protocols for installation is vital to get the best out of the solar panel system.
Are cheap solar panels worth buying?
It depends on what you are expecting from the solar panels. If affordability is your main worry and having sufficient funds is preventing you from switching to solar, go right ahead and choose the more affordable ones. Otherwise, you may also want to consider other aspects like efficiency, lifespan, and warranty. Discount solar panels tend to fare poorly in all these criteria.
If your budget is limited, you can try the solar systems on sale. Wholesale solar panels are another avenue you can explore.
On the other hand, there are cheap solar panels on par with their more expensive counterparts like Renogy. They manage to keep the price down by manufacturing solar panels in parts of the world where labor and materials are cheaper and later on, importing the panels into the United States.
Here are some of the cheap solar panel options you can consider when solar shopping.
|Manufacturer||Model||Power rating||Price per panel||Price per watt||Efficiency||Warranty|
|Solarland||SLP020-24U Silver Poly 24 Volt||20 watts||$63.80||$3.19||Unknown||25-year output warranty|
|Renogy||100W 12 Volt||100 watts||$125||$1.25||21%||1-year materials warranty|
|Newpowa||NPA160S-12H||160 watts||$163.90||$1.02||21%||25-year output warranty|
|HQST||HQST-190D-US||190 watts||$190||$1.00||22.1%||25-year output warranty|
|LONGi Solar||LR4-60-HPB-350M||350 watts||$191||$0.55||19.2%||25-year output warranty|
Note: All efficiency and warranty information are sourced from manufacturer websites
Not everyone can afford to buy Tesla solar panels. If you are searching for affordable solar panel options, Renogy is a good choice for its variety of solar panels on offer, exemplary track record, and high levels of efficiency. Renogy solar panels are designed for DIY installation, which helps you cut down on installation costs as well.
For local installation queries, you may contact the technical team at 855-808-5019.
Frequently asked questions
You need not buy a solar power system to derive benefits from it. You can lease the panels, opt for solar sharing, or enter into a power purchasing agreement (PPA). Each one of these options comes with its own set of rules and regulations and benefits and drawbacks. Gather information and understand each one before making the decision.
It depends. Whether you are choosing to go solar partially or fully. The types of panels you choose, the amount of sunlight available, and the method you chose to go solar all are relevant when calculating the money saved. Though it is hard to say how much you can save, it can be said with certainty that your utility bills will come down after solar installation. Read more about how much money can you save with a solar panel in our full article here - Average Electric Bill with Solar Panels.
Before you decide on the solar company, it is ideal to get quotes from at least 3 companies. Unfortunately, all solar companies do not use the same metrics in their quotes. You may do your own research or approach the solar companies to revise them to comparable terms. You may also want to check out our ultimate guide on how to get out of a solar panel contract.
Direct sunlight is not a necessity for solar panels to generate electricity, though it is desirable. Even when the sunlight is not reaching the ground, the panels will continue to produce energy at a lower rate. By choosing a high-efficiency panel like a monocrystalline panel, you can ensure that the electricity generation is not completely shut down on cloudy days. However, solar panels won’t generate electricity at night.
If you are living in a cloudy location, you may have to install more high-efficiency solar panels to compensate for the lack of direct sunlight.
No, they won’t if they are hooked up with the grid. To prevent the reverse flow of electricity from your system into the grid, which can be lethal to workers carrying out repairs on the grid, the system is designed to shut down in the event of a blackout.
However, if you have a solar battery in place together with a suitable inverter, you can continue to draw energy from the system when there is a blackout. For more on this topic, see our article on how to use solar panels during a power outage.
Of course, you can. Solar panel installation on its own is a huge investment for an average household. Initially, you may want to avoid spending on a solar battery. You can buy one at a later date and get an electrician to add it to the arrangement. However, before purchase, you need to ensure that the solar battery you are buying is compatible with your system.
A home fitted with solar panel installation is much in demand in the real estate market as it saves the buyer the hassle of installing it. Solar homes are priced higher than non-solar ones and they sell faster. However, if the ownership of the solar panels is not outright, this may not work in favor of the homeowner, like in the case of a solar lease. For more on this topic, see our article on Buying a House with Leased Solar Panels.
If the solar system is 100% owned, the home will sell faster and at a higher price. However, if it is leased, it complicates the situation. Either you have to buy out the lease before the sale or the new homeowner should be willing to take on the lease liability. You may also want to take a look at our tips for Selling a House with Solar Panels.
If you already have a solar monitoring system installed, it is a simple task to check the power output occasionally. If you detect low output, you should look for reasons. If it is a cloudy or rainy day, this is understandable. If not, physically check the panels to see the surface is covered with dirt, dust, or debris. Are there any overhanging tree branches casting shadows on the panels? You may take action to clear the obstructions.
In case even after all these, your solar system is consistently giving you low output, you should investigate further. Check the warranty to see whether it is within the guarantee period. If yes, contact the manufacturer for troubleshooting. If the solar panels are beyond the warranty period, it may be a sign that the time has come to discard them. For more details, see our guide on how to increase the efficiency of solar panels.
The United States doesn’t have a specific policy for solar panel recycling. They are treated at glass recycling facilities where glass and metal frames are removed for recycling. The rest of the components are thrown away in landfills or burned.
This need not be so. It is possible to refurbish used solar panels for reuse or recycle the components. With no law making this mandatory, it is easier and cheaper to throw away used solar panels in a landfill.
On the other hand, in Europe, the manufacturers are responsible for recycling decommissioned panels. In the US, a few private players are working in the field of disposing of solar panels responsibly. Notable among them are We Recycle Solar, RecyclePV, and Veolia.
The final point to consider when choosing solar panels for your home installation is comparing the payback period of the shortlisted panels. The payback period is the number of years the panels need to generate electricity to recover their cost. It depends on the performance of the solar panels, the solar tax credits and rebates you received, the utility rate in your area, and favorable weather conditions.
In the US, the payback time is estimated to be anywhere between 5 and 15 years. For the rest of their lifetime, the solar panels will provide you with energy free of cost. This is one of the reasons why high-efficiency monocrystalline panels are recommended. With their lifespan of 25 to 30 years, you get to enjoy free electricity for more than half of it.
Saving money is only one aspect of going solar, though it is something that attracts most homeowners. With the soaring utility rates, installing solar panels will ensure that you are locking in the expense on account of electricity for the next 25 years. That is too attractive to ignore.
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