When you decide you want to make the responsible decision to switch to renewable energy, the number of options can be overwhelming. Solar energy is a fantastic way to reduce energy costs, boost your property value, and transition into a more eco-friendly lifestyle. However, you must choose the best solar panels if you want to maximize all of the sun's benefits.
In this guide, we'll break down everything you need to know about how to choose the best solar panels for the home. We'll touch on topics like roof characteristics, financial incentives, and maintenance. First, we need to cover how solar panels work so you can get a better understanding of why it's essential to choose the right kind.
- How Do Solar Panels Work?
- How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
- Are Solar Panels Worth It?
- Things To Consider When Choosing Solar Panels For The Home
- Solar Panels For Your Home FAQ
- Choosing Solar Panels For The Home: Conclusion
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Residential solar panels contain silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells. When the sun shines on the solar panels, the PV cells generate electricity using the Photovoltaic Effect. The sun's electricity is direct current electricity (DC), which isn't suitable to power your home's appliances. So, the energy is sent to your inverter to create alternating current (AC) electricity to get power.
The switchboard is responsible for sending the AC electricity to your home's appliances. One unique aspect of the switchboard is that it's designed to first use solar energy before extracting power from the grid, ensuring you're maximizing your solar panels' full potential.
Upon installing solar panels, your local power company will also install a utility meter. This meter measures how much energy is sent to your home and all the excess power that returns to the grid. This process is known as ‘net metering’, and can provide an opportunity for solar panel owners to earn credits for returning excess energy to the grid
Oftentimes,the power you don't use from the grid earns you credits on your electricity bill each month. Homeowners with solar panels have an electric bill that consists of energy they buy from the grid minus the credits they earn by sending their unused solar energy to the grid.
Do Solar Panels Work At Night?
Due to the lack of sunlight, solar panels don't produce any energy at night. However, they can still power your home using net-metering. All of the energy you don't use is sent back to the grid, but you can reclaim that energy at night. You also can use solar batteries to store energy for night time use. However, solar batteries can be expensive.
What About Cloudy Days?
Although solar panels are more efficient when the skies are clear, they can still generate power through indirect sunlight. If any clouds are blocking the sun, you can still expect to have enough energy to power your appliances. Rain can potentially ruin your panels' efficiency since it can wash away dust or debris that builds up over time.
How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
When thinking about switching to solar, one question that comes to mind is: how many solar panels do I need? To start, you need to calculate your household's daily energy consumption. An easy way to determine this is to ring up your electric company, request an annual report with monthly usage, and determine your household’s energy use.
Once you have a monthly average in watts, divide that by 30 to get your daily energy consumption. A bonus of calculating your household's daily energy consumption is to pinpoint which appliances are using the most power. If you notice specific devices are consuming too much energy, it might be time for an upgrade.
- Conventional refrigerator: 4,800 watts/day or 4.8 kW
- Air conditioner: 3,000 watts/day or 3 kW
- Space heater: 1,500 watts/day or 1.5 kW
So, these three appliances alone generate 9.3 kW of power each day, or 279 kW per month.
After you tally up your major appliances' total consumption, you'll be ready to choose the size of your solar panel system. The average homeowner needs anywhere between 20 to 25 panels to provide enough energy to power their home. The number of panels can vary depending on location, individual panel design, and roof characteristics (see below).
Are Solar Panels Worth It?
Maybe you've already been approached by an enthusiastic solar sales team that tells you switching to solar will save you money. Although this can be true in the long run, investing in solar isn't as easy as throwing a few panels on your roof. Like any long-term investment, there are several factors to consider to ensure you get the most out of your solar panels.
With that in mind, there are many benefits of switching to solar, including saving money. Before getting into investment considerations, below are a few of the benefits you can expect from solar.
Energy from the sun is 100% clean and renewable. By switching to solar, you're reducing our society's dependence on oil and other energy sources that are harmful to the environment. Oil, gas, and fossil fuels produce damaging emissions that negatively affect our air and water and destroy ecosystems for thousands of species on our planet.
Solar energy doesn't produce any pollution, which is why it's become such a popular choice for homeowners who want to take part in a more eco-friendly way of living. With the sun, you get an unlimited energy supply that doesn't affect the oceans, ozone layer, or the landscape.
Lower Energy Bill
One of the most significant selling points of going solar is how it drastically lowers your energy costs. Since you're getting less power from the grid, you can expect to see a drop in your utility bill. Not only do solar panels help you save money, but they can also make you money. When you generate power throughout the day, you can sell some of that electricity back to the grid and earn credits (rates vary based on location).
You can use solar panels anywhere that has sunshine. As a result, solar panels are an excellent choice for people who live in remote locations and don't have easy access to national electricity. Solar kits are installed worldwide to help those who may not have readily available access to standard electricity.
Other than being extremely efficient, solar panels have relatively low maintenance. The only significant upkeep required is to just make sure they're clean and that no dust or debris blocks the sunlight. Homeowners only need to clean their panels once or twice per year, depending on the weather and location.
Several reputable solar companies offer an extensive long-term warranty that covers repairs. Since there aren't any moving parts, you never have to worry about wear and tear or other damages that come with other power sources. You may need to change a few of your panels every 5 to 10 years, but your solar company might cover the new ones.
After investing upfront in your solar panel system installation, you'll pay little to no money to operate and maintain your panels.
Although this is an indirect benefit of switching to solar, it's still something you can be proud of after switching to renewable energy. The majority of the solar cost goes towards installation and manufacturing, which helps generate local jobs. You're also encouraging the growth of a new industry that could ultimately employ millions of people in the near future while helping protect the planet from climate change.
Things To Consider When Choosing Solar Panels For The Home
When choosing solar panels for the home, there are a few factors you need to consider to ensure you get the right system to fulfill all of your power needs. While your solar company can consult with you on choosing the best plan, you must know all the necessary details before investing. Below are some of the critical aspects to consider when choosing solar panels.
We mentioned above that knowing your power needs is crucial when selecting a solar panel system. If you know how much power your household consumes, it will be easier to choose the right system that provides enough electricity to support your lifestyle. Some households consume more power than others, so the starting point is calculating how much energy you use per month in kilowatts.
Another factor to consider is when you use most of your energy. If you and your family are out of the house most of the day, you'll be consuming more power in the morning and at night. If you're having trouble calculating how much energy you need from your solar system, you can also consult with your installer.
Many homeowners are concerned about their roof when installing solar panels. Fortunately, solar panels usually do not harm your roof structure during installation. The first thing to consider is your roof's material. Asphalt shingles are the most popular, and it is easy to install panels on them. Standing metal roofs are the most compatible with solar panels and offer the cheapest installation.
Your roof's angle is another characteristic to think about when switching to solar. The ideal angle for solar panels is about 30 to 45 degrees. However, if you have a steeper roof, you still won't need to worry about installing panels or hindering your energy production.
Homeowners with a flat roof can still install solar panels, but you'll need to use brackets to angle them towards the sun.
Your roof's size can play a significant role in how effective your solar panel system is. Most residential systems require at least 200-300 feet of surface area. Fortunately, many homes in the United States have enough space for a basic residential solar system. If you have a larger roof, you can consult with your solar company to see what the best option might be.
Many people think that solar panels are only useful for those who live in the sunny Southwest. Although people in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California may have a slight advantage in maximizing solar benefits, solar energy isn't limited to one location.
Even if you're in a favorable location geographically, other obstacles can hinder how much energy your solar panels produce. It would be best if you kept an eye out for large buildings, mountains, trees, or anything else that might block out the sun. Remember, each of your solar panels works together, so even a small number of panels blocked by shadows can reduce efficiency.
If you're concerned about whether your location will affect your solar panel system's performance, you can speak with your solar company to see what advice they have to offer.
Incentives, Rebates, & Solar Tax Credits
The government provides a federal solar tax credit that allows homeowners to deduct part of their solar costs on their tax returns. Depending on your state, you may be able to deduct up to 26% of your solar costs. Some states offer extra tax credits for installing solar panels. As a result, you can deduct even more of your solar costs from your state tax bill.
You may be able to receive a cash rebate from your local municipality, utility company, or other government agencies that are pro-clean energy in some states. Cash rebates are generally only available in a specific timeframe and are limited to a certain number of solar panels installed. On average, cash rebates can potentially help lower your solar costs by 10% to 20%.
Some states require local utility companies to generate a certain amount of energy from solar power. Therefore, utility companies can buy some of your solar energy for what's known as Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). Local agencies will purchase all of the solar energy you don't use to make up for their renewable energy quota. SRECs can help reduce the amount of time it takes to return on your investment of switching to solar.
Check with your local government or utility company to see how much you can save via tax credits and incentives.
Solar Panels For Your Home FAQ
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about solar panels for the home.
What Are Solar Panels Made Of?
Although solar panels are considered a breakthrough in modern technology, their characteristics are relatively easy to understand. There are three kinds of solar panel available for homeowners:
- Polycrystalline solar panels
- Monocrystalline solar panels
- Thin-film solar panels
The first two have a similar manufacturing process and use a lot of the same materials. The tiny squares you see across the panel are called solar cells. Solar cells are generally made of silicone and other framing materials. The more complex the solar cell, the more efficient the panels are at producing electricity. An average residential solar panel consists of 60 to 72 solar cells.
Solar cells are connected using a metal (usually aluminum or copper) component known as a busbar, which helps the solar cells produce a higher voltage. If a system has more busbars, it can create more electrons and produce more electricity for the home.
Since monocrystalline panels only use a single crystal, electrons have more room to flow freely. Polycrystalline solar cells have more boundaries and rigid edges, impacting the flow of electrons and hindering performance. As a result, monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient.
Thin-film solar panels aren't as popular for residential use and are more suitable for industrial use. These panels use a thinly layered semiconductor that lays over a glass or plastic surface. Thin-film solar panels are more flexible, so they're suitable for curved structures, vehicles, and other rigid surfaces.
How Long Does It Take For Solar Panels To Pay For Themselves?
Although the environmental benefits are one of the primary perks of switching to solar, many homeowners still want to know when their investment will pay off. With solar, you'll need to calculate your solar payback period. The solar payback period varies based on a few different factors, including your location, solar company, and energy usage.
The way to calculate your solar payback period is to take your total installation cost and subtract your energy savings and financial incentives. For example, if it costs you $15,000 to install your solar system and you get $4,000 in economic incentives, the total cost of installing the solar panels is $11,000. Then, if you're saving $1,500 per year on energy, your solar payback period would be about seven years.
The average solar payback period in the United States is around eight or nine years. Some states, like Hawaii and Massachusetts, have quicker payback periods about six years on average), where other states like North Dakota can take up to 15 years or more. The reason why some states take longer has nothing to do with the amount of sunshine, but because of electricity costs and lower financial incentives.
Since the average residential solar panel system will last around 25 years (see below), and the average payback period is nine years, homeowners can expect to have roughly 16 years of significantly cheaper or free energy. When you think long-term, installing solar panels is one of the best choices you can make to cut down energy costs.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
The lifespan of solar panels ranges between 25 to 30 years, depending on your solar company and how well you maintain them. With that in mind, your solar panels won't suddenly stop producing energy after a couple of decades. Instead, their efficiency will gradually decrease over time. The degeneration rate of solar panels varies between companies and your location.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that above-average solar panels have a degeneration rate of about 0.5% per year. Cheaper solar panels have a degeneration rate of closer to 0.8% per year, which is still suitable enough to power your home for decades.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure your solar panels last as long as possible:
- Make sure you hire a trustworthy solar company that has high-quality panels and customer service.
- Always clean your panels and ensure that no dust or debris are blocking the solar cells.
- Monitor and maintain your solar panels regularly to spot issues early on and take advantage of the company's warranty.
How Do I Clean Solar Panels?
One notable aspect of solar panels is theyrequire little maintenance. Rain can also help remove dust and debris to boost their efficiency. However, they will require manual cleaning from time to time. The first tip for this DIY task is to always shut down your solar panel system before cleaning to ensure you stay safe.
If possible, invest in equipment that allows you to clean your panels from the ground to avoid injuries. Those who can't clean from the ground should only access the roof if they have the essential safety gear to wear.
Always clean your panels on an overcast day. If you clean your panels on a sunny day, the sun can quickly evaporate any water and leave smears. Most homeowners choose early morning for cleaning because morning dew can help soften any dirt built-up on the panels.
Most of the time, cleaning isn't necessary. Unless you have noticeable stains or dirt on your panels, you likely don't need to go through the hassle of cleaning them.
Choosing Solar Panels For The Home: Conclusion
Without a doubt, installing solar panels is an exciting process. If you pool together all of the benefits, it's also an excellent investment. There are several things to consider before choosing solar panels for the home, so we hope this guide was helpful. Remember, always consider your roof characteristics, local financial incentives, and which solar company you hire before deciding.
If you're looking for more information about solar energy generation, you can check out other posts on our blog. We cover several topics, such as solar batteries, solar companies, and more.