Solar power is growing around the world, is currently a multibillion-dollar business and is projected to grow exponentially in the coming years.
One of the most popular solar trends is getting some solar panels, hook them up to your electrical system, and reap the benefits.
Solar panels can help save money on power and save the planet at the same time by harvesting the abundant solar energy all around us.
However, if you’re unsure how to get started with solar power or even what it’s about, read on to learn everything you need to know to set up your solar system.
What's In This Article
The most beautiful thing about solar power is the clean energy it produces. It generates electricity from sunlight which it then converts into electricity.
This electricity then feeds into your house’s power, reducing your energy costs or eliminating them.
People with large enough solar systems feed power back into the grid and get paid for the electricity. Essentially, the allure of free energy for your home draws in many solar enthusiasts.
How Solar Panels Work
Solar panels are composed of solar cells. These cells have two layers of silicon designed to have electricity run through them.
When sunlight hits the cell, the silicon becomes charged, one layer positive and the other negative. Electrons from the photons of sunlight run from the sunlight into the layers, generating a charge.
The sunlight gives up its energy to the charged layers, which generate electricity. This electricity is then guided to the edge of the cell into the wiring of the solar panel.
However, this electricity is not ready for use yet. It’s still direct current, while most electrical systems use alternating current.
But all you have to do is put the electricity through an inverter, and the outcome is clean AC energy ready for storage and use.
Pros of Solar Panels
Naturally, the most significant benefit of solar panels is the clean, endless power they generate. However, it is not the only benefit.
Solar power is easier to set up and maintain compared to other forms of clean energy. Windmills, for example, have many moving parts and require a lot of maintenance—ditto for hydroelectric.
With solar panels, all you have is the initial cost and installation with only occasional maintenance. They’re easy to set up, then forget about, so you can generate clean power without too much inconvenience.
You might think the weather must always be perfect to take advantage of the electricity your panels produce, but no. All you need to do is hook up your solar system to a battery, and you can take advantage of your clean energy, even when the weather doesn’t agree.
Cons of Solar Panels
While the maintenance costs over time are lower than other forms of clean energy, the initial set-up cost can dent your wallet.
Solar panels are cutting-edge technology, and it shows in their price tag. However, between the money, they’ll save you over time and the lower maintenance cost, they’re still cheaper than most other clean energy systems.
However, solar panels also produce less energy than other systems. Most solar panels are between 5% and 17% efficient. That means that 5 to 17% of the sunlight that hits the solar panel is converted into power.
Compare this to wind turbines which are 20 to 40% efficient at turning wind power into usable energy.
However, solar technology is constantly improving, and some residential solar panels on the market today are over 20% efficient. And besides, what solar lacks in efficiency, it can make up for in quantity.
Less efficient solar panels mean you just need more solar panels to generate the same amount of electricity. If you have solar panels that are 20% efficient and generate 500w of power, 3 of them will produce 1.5Kw of electricity.
However, if you get five cheaper 300w solar panels, you’ll generate the same amount of electricity at a lower cost. You can always make up for the lack of efficiency with more solar panels with solar panels.
Another con is that solar panels need direct sunlight to generate electricity. This means solar isn’t suited for shady roofs or roofs slanted in the wrong direction. However, most residential homes fit solar quite well on rooftops and sheds and patio covers.
Planning To Go Solar
If you’re convinced of solar power and want to get in on the trend, it’s easier to plan out your solar system than you think.
You just need to find the amount of power you want to generate, calculate the space you have for solar panels (typically a southern-facing slanted roof), then find the correct wattage of solar panels to place in that area fit and generate the electricity you need.
The standard residential solar panel size is 65X39 inches. Solar panel sizes vary somewhat depending on the manufacturer, but this size is pretty standard for most residential solar panel installations.
You want to generate enough electricity to cover your home. Average out the average wattage you use on your power bills. Then take the area you have to install solar panels, and divide the total square feet by 15, roughly the square footage you need for one solar panel. Then you have the number of panels you can fit in your area.
The next important step is to calculate your peak sunlight hours. Peak sun hours are when your solar panels are operating at their full potential and generating the most electricity, so it’s essential to know.
Solar panels still produce electricity in cloudy weather or when the sun isn’t directly hitting them, but less than their full potential.
A 300 w panel might produce 250 watts when the sun is still rising, 300 w during peak daylight hours, and 220w when the sun is setting.
This is why southern facing slopes are so important. During the winter, the sun tends to stay in the south. This means southern-facing panels generate more electricity in the winter than solar panels that face other directions.
To get the most out of your solar panels, find your peak sunlight hours and a sunny southern-facing slope to put them on.
If you have three peak sunlight hours and a 300w solar panel, that panel will produce 900 watts, plus a little extra during nonpeak sunlight hours.
Knowing your peak sunlight hours is essential to finding how many solar panels you need to cover the power you want the panels to produce, as you likely won’t need the number of panels you think you’ll need.
Then you just need to divide the wattage you need by the number of solar panels you can fit. Then divide this number by your peak sunlight hours. This will give you the amount of wattage you need each solar panel to generate to go completely solar.
You know the number of panels you need, the area they’ll be installed in, and the wattage you need, all without consulting an outside professional.
Knowing what you want will help you immensely when looking for solar panels and planning the installation and is the first step to you going solar.
Is My Home a Good Fit with Solar?
Typically, most residential homes are a good fit for solar. You just need a sloping area such as a roof, shed roof, or patio cover, or you can even put an installation on ground level. It’s best if the slope faces south, at least in the northern hemisphere, but it’s not required.
Then you can calculate the peak sunlight hours in your area. This is the amount of time the sun will be directly hitting your solar panels, and it varies by geographic location. The higher the number, the better, as more peak sunlight hours means more time your solar panels will be running at peak efficiency.
Typically, most houses (even old houses) can have an efficient solar array somewhere on their roof or elsewhere on the property. It needs to be sunny, sloped, and have enough area to fit the system.
Will I Save Money with Solar?
Most solar systems pay for themselves within 9 to 12 years. But this varies by where you live by a lot.
To calculate your ROI on a solar system, you need to find how much you’ll save on your electric bill and whatever tax incentives are in your area. You spend 20,000 dollars on solar with a 5,000 dollar tax incentive. Then your energy savings each month is 150 dollars.
15,000 divided by 150 is 100. So it will take 100 months or a little over eight years for the solar system to pay for itself.
Since most solar systems are designed to last 25 years, you have about 16 and a half years left, about 30,000 dollars in savings, making more than double your money for installing the solar system.
So yes, solar is almost always worth the upfront costs in the long run. While it depends on your particular situation, the savings stack over time, making it almost always worth it.
Should I Install Solar Myself Or Hire Professional Installers?
You can probably install a solar system yourself if you’ve worked with electrical systems and mounts before. However, if you haven’t, then its best left to professionals.
If you’re confident in your skills, you can buy a solar system DIY kit from the solar manufacturer you choose, which comes with all of the materials needed to install the solar system yourself.
However, you can also have the materials delivered to your home and then hire a professional installer to install the product. Ultimately, it comes down to confidence in your skills.
Most DIY kits come with instructions, so beginners can follow along as long as they understand the terminology and tools.
Will Solar Increase My Home Value?
Yes, solar panels increase your home value by around 4.1%. In general, solar power reduces energy costs while producing clean energy making them attractive for howe-buyers.
To put it into perspective, that’s a little over 9,000 dollars for the median-priced home in the US. However, it’s frequently less than the installation cost for a solar system.
So while it does increase home value, it doesn’t make all your money back unless you use it for some time.
So you shouldn’t install solar systems explicitly to add value to a home. You should install it to save money and be the cherry on top when it comes time to sell your home.
Read More: Do Solar Panels Increase Home Value?
What is Community Solar?
Perhaps you want to support solar power but don’t have room for solar panels. Or you don’t want to use them or buy them. There’s a solution!
Community solar is a solar farm that allows citizens to subscribe to solar power. So you pay them money, and they feed solar energy into your grid. You’re supporting green energy and technology while avoiding the hassle of solar panels on your home.
However, this isn’t perfect. While it does save some money, it’s nowhere near the amount you would save if you installed solar panels yourself.
Moreover, it’s a recurring subscription. While you can turn it off when you want to, it will eventually cost as much money as installing your solar system or even exceed those costs.
However, community solar is still a great way to get clean energy at a reduced price. It’s great for people who can’t install solar panels or don’t have the money to spend on a large installation.
Solar Panel System Components
Solar systems consist of complicated electrical components that control everything from generating to storing and using electricity.
Each component has an important role in the more extensive system as a whole.
The solar panels are the most significant and most prominent part of the solar system. They are made of solar cells that collect sunlight and generate electricity.
The panels themselves can come in many different forms and sizes. However, most residential panels are roughly the same size, and they all produce electricity.
Inverters convert the direct current electricity generated by the solar panels into alternating current, which is used by most electrical systems.
Most of the time, the inverters are placed directly onto the solar panels for maximum efficiency.
Solar panels generate electricity, but batteries store the electricity and make it accessible at any time. Without batteries, you can’t fully take advantage of your solar panels as none of the electricity they generate can be stored.
Mounts connect the solar panels to the structure it’s on. Mounts keep the panels steady and hold all the wiring needed to operate.
Buying Solar Panels
There are several different types of solar panels available on the market, and they all have other functions and prices.
Knowing what kind is best suited for your needs is essential to planning your solar system.
4 Types of Solar Panels
Solar panels differ by type, efficiency, and form, each serving a unique purpose for different consumer needs.
1. Solar Roof Shingles
Solar shingles are sleek and have a modern aesthetic that isn’t available with traditional solar panels. They’re roofing shingles for your home that also double as solar panels to produce electricity.
Since the solar shingles are integrated directly into the roof, they’re a lot more durable than traditional solar panels. Some manufacturers brag these shingles can withstand a Category 5 hurricane, but the warranties available differ with different brands.
However, they’re cutting-edge technology that’s only recently hit the market, meaning you’ll have to pay a pretty penny. In addition to their hefty price tag, solar roof shingles aren’t as efficient as traditional solar panels, though they are improving.
Moreover, installation is longer and more complex as it has to be installed as shingles on a roof. The Tesla brand takes two weeks or more, compared to traditional solar panels that can be installed in about a day.
2. Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Most traditional solar panels are made of crystalline silicon, and there are two different types, polycrystalline and monocrystalline.
The polycrystalline type of traditional solar panel is less efficient than the monocrystalline type. However, the price is also lowered to reflect this.
Polycrystalline solar panels are an excellent option for those looking to make a solar system on a budget.
3. Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels are more effective than polycrystalline, which means they’re more expensive. However, if you prize efficiency above the initial investment, these panels are worth the price in the long run.
Polycrystalline solar panels consist of several silicon crystals, decreasing the efficiency of light passing through. Monocrystalline panels are made of one silicon crystal, allowing light to pass more easily.
4. Thin Film Solar Panels
Thin-film solar panels are cheap and easy to install. However, they have less efficiency than traditional solar panels or even solar roof shingles.
Moreover, several different kinds of thin-film solar panels are made of other materials.
Amorphous silicon panels are made of silicon, the same as monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. However, it isn’t crystallized, making them flexible and light.
The trade-off is inefficiency, as most amorphous silicon panels are around 7% efficient while most crystalline solar panels are about 20% efficient.
Cadmium telluride thin-film solar panels are made from many thin layers of cadmium solution. They’re the most installed thin-film solar panel as their efficiency is around 11%.
However, they’re tough to mass produce and are extremely toxic, leading to high disposal costs, unsuitable for residential use. Most commercial installations set up the solar panels on a large scale, making the extra costs worth it.
Copper gallium indium diselenide (CIGS) thin-film solar panels are a chemical applied in thin sheets between conductive layers. Moreover, their high efficiency-20%- makes them the most efficient thin-film solar panel available while remaining light and flexible.
While these are the only thin-film solar panel that can realistically compete with crystallized solar panels, they’re not cheap and require a bit of the toxic compound cadmium. While it doesn’t require as much cadmium as cadmium telluride, it’s still a concern.
Theoretically, the efficiency of thin-film solar panels can reach 100%, making them an exciting technology to follow. However, they’re still developing them, and most research on thin-film solar panels is centered on improving them.
As this technology steadily improves, it may outstrip traditional crystallized solar panels in a couple of years, taking over the market and changing the face of the solar industry.
Solar Panel Brands
Solar is a new and exciting technology, which means there are many solar panel manufacturers to choose from. From more recent start-ups to companies that have been in the solar game from the start, each company has something unique to offer the world of solar power.
SunPower is currently considered the solar industry leader and has the most efficient residential solar panel on the market today: the Maxeon 3.
While the solar industry leader is a tough spot to claim, there is no dispute as SunPower was founded in the eighties, developed record-breaking PV cells, and launched its residential panels in 2007.
In 2019 the company split into SunPower and Maxeon Solar. SunPower focuses on the North American market while Maxeon Power handles global sales.
While they don’t come cheap, they’re known for their quality and efficiency, with a 25-year warranty on their residential panels.
If you want the best solar panels on the market today, SunPower is the way to go.
LG had some of the best solar panels on the market. They’ve recently decided to close down their solar panel manufacturing and will sell the remaining panels off.
This is a shame as LG solar panels were some of the most popular on the market. However, if you still want to snag some, they will manufacture them until the second quarter of this year.
They’ll work with distributors and installers to ensure products with warranties will still get good service, but since that section of their business is shutting down, their 25-year warranty comes at a significantly higher risk than most others.
Nevertheless, their solar panels are a solid choice in sturdiness and efficiency. They’re offered at a reasonable price, and will undoubtedly serve whoever buys the last few well through many years.
Panasonic is known for its quality electronics. However, more and more people are discovering their solar division.
Panasonic’s solar panels have a 25-year warranty, which is high for a solar panel manufacturer, but what sets Panasonic apart from the competition is how well their solar panels perform in the heat.
Solar panels, like most electronics, work best in cool temperatures. However, being solar panels their more than likely to come across hot sunny days that drop their efficiency.
Panasonic has the lowest drop in efficiency of all the solar panels currently on the market, making them a strong contender in the solar business.
Moreover, their panels are all solidly priced mid-range, making them a more budget-friendly option when compared to more high-range manufacturers like SunPower.
Panasonic is an excellent option for solar, with great solar panels, reasonable prices, and excellent warranties.
Silfab is a Canadian photovoltaic manufacturer that possibly has the best value in its solar panels. With prices in the mid to upper range, with high-quality solar panels made entirely in North America, they’re a popular choice for those looking to get the most out of their solar panels for the best price.
Some of their solar offerings have higher warranties and efficiencies. Still, their 25-year guarantee puts them at the top of the solar market, along with some of the most efficient solar panels available.
Silfab currently markets solely in the North American market and advertises their products as designed for North America, making them an excellent choice for more local buyers. Still, they haven’t set foot on the world stage.
However, this smaller business size may be what enables them to offer such quality solar panels at such an attractive price.
Canadian Solar is a large solar manufacturer that operates and sells on six continents, making them one of the leading global solar manufacturers.
Their prices make them a great value, and their warranties extend up to 15 years on some products. However, compared to the manufacturers listed before them, they fall short.
They aren’t as reasonable as Silfab, nor as high quality as Panasonic or SunPower. However, they’re still a good value for their products, and is set on the world stage means they sell to more countries than other companies might.
Ultimately, while they’re not topping the charts, they’re still a solid choice for homebuyers looking for solar.
Q Cells is headquartered in Germany, and they’re dedicated to quality in their solar panels. They offer solid mid-range efficient solar panels at a great value. Q Cells has you covered if you’re looking for quality, but lower efficiencies and price.
Q Cells underwent a rebranding in 2020, going from Hanwha Q Cells to just Q Cells, and their reasonable prices with stylish solar panels make them a popular choice on the solar market.
Besides the lower pricing and 25-year warranty, Q Cells’ solar panels are attractive and charm many homebuyers with their sleek modern aesthetic. If you’re looking for solar panels that look great and perform well, Q cells have many lines and series that will fit your needs.
Trina Solar won’t be breaking any records in the efficiency and quality of their solar panels. So why is Trina Solar one of the most installed solar panels on the market?
Value. Trina Solar offers some of the cheapest solar panel installations on the market, while still retaining high-quality solar panels.
They offer several different lines of solar, their most popular being SPLITMAX and TALLMAX for home solar installation. Some models offer 25-year guarantees, but it all depends on what model and line you’re looking at.
Their installation and materials costs are lower than most other manufacturers, and Trina Solar offers better prices without a significant drop in quality.
While they might not be the best solar on the market, they are well-suited to more economical solar homeowners.
REC is headquartered in Norway and manufactures its solar panels in Singapore. They’re Europe’s leading solar manufacturer, and their efficient, high-quality solar panels put them near the forefront of the solar industry.
REC offers 25-year warranties on all of their installed products, and their award-winning solar panels are some of the most efficient on the market.
All of this and reasonable prices make REC one of the most popular choices for solar panels, at least in Europe.
They’re continuing to expand their influence on the global stage, and chances are they’ll grow their influence in the coming years.
AXITEC stands out on in the competitive solar marketplace are its lower-end solar panels. While less efficient, prudent homebuyers can get a cheap system for little more than ten grand with their less efficient models.
While their lower-end solar panels may be cheaper, they still come with a 25-year guarantee, showing this company is willing to stand behind its products. And they offer more standard options as well at standard pricing.
AXITEC is great for homebuyers looking for a cheap solar system but that still has quality materials and is backed by a guarantee.
JinkoSolar, much like AXITEC, is mainly known for its lower-end, cheaper solar panels. Being a bargain solar company that still offers quality products is an attractive choice for money-conscious homeowners.
Most of JinkoSolar’s panels are less efficient than most companies. However, as they’re mainly focused on less efficient yet solid solar panels, it makes sense.
They offer up to 25-year warranties. However, it depends on the solar panel model you choose. Ultimately, JinkoSolar is an excellent company if you’re looking for cheaper solar systems and installations.
Prices and Costs
The solar installation price varies by model and manufacturer, but in general, a high-quality solar system will cost about 18,000 to 22,000 dollars.
A mid-range solar system can be anywhere between 14,000 to 18,000 dollars, and lower-end solar systems can be as cheap as 10,000 dollars.
However, you should try to balance the price and the quality and buy a solar system that suits your needs. The price of the solar systems will also vary based on the mounts, inverters, and other equipment needed for a proper solar system.
There are also tax credits and state incentives available to help offset the price of your solar panels and system. The Federal Solar Tax Credit takes about 26% off the cost of your solar system.
Installation costs also affect these prices, and DIY solar installers can save several thousand dollars by installing their solar panels themselves, but only if they know what they’re doing.
An incorrectly installed solar system can affect the electrical system as a whole of your house and cost you thousands of dollars, so only do it yourself if you’re confident in your electrical skills.
Solar is clean green energy that everyone has access to, regardless of location. So it only makes sense that governments and states offer monetary incentives for solar installations.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
This incentive takes about 26% of the money you spent on your solar system and gives it back as a tax credit. It helps offset the cost of solar systems, both large and small.
Individual states also offer incentives for installing solar systems in your home, and even counties or towns can. If you’re looking to reduce the cost of your solar system, check state and local laws to see if there’s an incentive you can take advantage of.
Installation of Solar Panels
When it comes time to install solar panels, it’s essential to know what you’re doing. If you’re not confident in your DIY skills, the best option is to hire a local professional who has installed many solar panels before.
DIY can be an attractive option for those looking to reduce costs in their solar systems. And if you’re hand and have all the correct tools, it’s not too hard.
- Precisely as you plan it
- Complete control over the project
- Longer installation
- No one to help service
- Flaws are your responsibility
Professional installers should have good reviews on solar installations and certifications to set them apart from the competition. If you want your solar installation done right, quickly, professional installers are the way to go.
The installation cost was included in the prices for the solar panels, but in general, installation costs amount to around 4,000 dollars depending on the scope of your solar system. It can be less for smaller installations, and more for more prominent, as it depends on the brand and model of solar panels you choose, and the number of solar panels you’re installing.
Monitoring and Maintenance of Your Solar Panel System
Most solar manufacturers include a monitoring system with solar installations. It either comes in an app or as an interface integrated into the system itself.
How Solar Monitoring Systems Work
Solar monitoring systems measure the output from the solar panels and display it in watts or as a percentage based on its maximum output and current output.
How To Maintain a Solar Panel System
Solar panels need maintenance about two to four times a year, either from the original installers or other professionals. Solar panels need to be cleaned, so it’s time to schedule cleaning when you notice a dip in production from your monitoring system.
Solar panels require little other maintenance. The only additional time they need cleaned is when heavy snowfall blocks the panels. Once the snow is brushed off, typically, the panels usually operate.
This is one of the reasons it’s so important for solar panels to be on a tilt, as the rain will brush debris off and clean the cells, resulting in less maintenance. Snow is easier to brush off, and tilted solar panels can get more sunlight if positioned correctly.