Published May 30, 2012
It may be time to install some solar panels on your roof to counter that electricity bill that is through the roof. Here is a brief guide to solar panels and solar electricity systems.
How do solar panels work?
Photovoltaic (PV) cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. Today, thousands of people take advantage of this process by using individual solar PV systems to power their homes. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the solar panels used for homes are made up of modules of about 40 solar cells. The average home will need 10 to 20 solar panels.
What are the benefits of solar power?
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that most solar electric systems usually pay for themselves in four to five years. They tend to last up to three decades, and can increase the value of your home. There are also federal and state incentives that come along with solar installations. Find out what kind of tax credits and utility rebates are available in your state.
And then there are the environmental benefits of switching to solar power. Solar electric systems reduce greenhouse gas emission, as well as the dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil.
How do I decide which solar panels to buy?
There are two main types of solar panels: crystalline silicon and thin film. Dan Bedell, the executive vice president of marketing and corporate development at Principal Solar, says to keep in mind that, while thin film panels may be less expensive than silicon-based ones, they usually produce less electricity.
When selecting solar panels, Bedell says that you should pay attention to the price per watt calculation (divide the price of the module by the number of watts it is rated to produce). You should also consider your location, the amount of sunlight your home receives and the average temperatures for your area.
"The best module for Boston might not be the best module for Phoenix," Bedell says.
Other factors to think about when you are picking out a system include your budget, the available space on your roof or in your yard for the solar panels, and the degree to which you want to offset conventional power with solar power.
Can I install the panels myself?
No. Bedell says that installing a solar electricity system is not a do-it-yourself project.
You will need a licensed electrician or certified solar installer. Consult the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) for a list of certified systems installers. Ask any solar energy dealer or installer if he or she handles the tax incentive paperwork.
Your system will require a certain level of maintenance. Review the maintenance instructions in your system manual so you are aware of these requirements.
Make sure to check with your city, county or homeowner association to see if there are any restrictions and whether you need to get permits before you can install the system. Your installer should be able to help you out.
Bedell says that the engineering of the installation is important to the functionality of your system.
"Orienting a very high quality hardware installation in the wrong direction, or in a partially-shaded area will likely result in far worse electricity production than orienting a very low quality hardware installation in the right direction and free of shade," he says.