Now that we’ve talked about solar modules, solar shingles and photovoltaics, you’re now ready to install your solar panel! At some point in the future, we’ll talk about costs and incentive savings, but for now, we’ll just focus on where and how to install your solar panels.
Position and placement of your solar panels are just as important as something like your garden – you wouldn’t put your garden under the shade of the garage overhang, would you? Of course not! Flowers need sunlight!
The positioning of solar panels is important because you want to get the maximum amount of sun exposure. It’s important to measure, research and possibly even consult with a professional before installation, as you want to make sure you do such an investment properly.
As seen here, most solar panels are placed at an angle.
solar-energy-300×225 There is a variety of locations where you can place solar panels: rooftops, on the ground, over parking lots and corridors and even close to some walls. The angle at which the solar panel is installed depends on where the property gets the most sunlight, the possibility of exposure to the elements and the strength of the roof or other objects that the solar panels are attached to. The last thing you want is your investment crashing to the ground! Again, it’s always a safe bet to get a professional to consult with you on the installation, even if they aren’t the ones doing the installation.
We have previously learned the basics of photovoltaics and the anatomy of photovoltaic cells, now we’ll delve into the complex design and function of solar cells. A group of solar cells, called a solar panel, is the basis for all commercial and residential solar energy systems. Most cells use crystalline silicon or cadmium telluride that is cut into thin wafers. The conducting wires are most often made of silver, copper or another transition metal. This group of solar cells are mounted on a supporting structure, such as a piece of metal and made into an assembled and packaged solar panel. The panels can be used on their own or as part of a much more complex photovoltaic system to generate solar power for larger residences or commercial properties.
Mounting systems can be fixed on a roof or on a pole above the ground. A solar panel can also be affixed to a roof. Some panels have solar trackers that tilt to get the best light exposure.
Solar Panel Efficiency
You’ve probably heard much about percentage efficiency for some solar panels. This is because photovoltaic modules cannot cover some types of light, specifically ultraviolet, infrared and diffuse light; therefore, some of the sun’s energy is wasted by solar panels. The efficiency increases if the panels are illuminated by monochromatic light. Some panel designs that have split light into wavelengths and have those wavelengths shine onto cell specifically made for that cell have increased cell efficiency by over 50 percent. The efficiency for most current products is around 22 percent in newer products and about 12-15 percent on much older modules. Most modules are able to effectively sustain through heavy temperature and precipitation conditions.
Some companies having started building smart modules that have individually tracking devices for each module and can optimize power more successfully. New technology has allowed the module to continue a state of efficiency even if one or more of the cells in completely in the shade.
Now we can recycle many parts of a solar module if it starts to lose functionality. Up to 97 percent of the materials are recyclable. After removing the aluminum frame, a mill crushes the glass, plastics, and metals – all of these materials then get distributed to manufacturers who use that corresponding material. The recycling process for cadmium telluride models preserves 90 percent of the glass and 90 percent of the semiconductor material.
Solar panels may also have rebates for those who purchase them, so it’s becoming cheaper and more efficient to purchase a solar module.
Many people are preferring to go solar in their homes, as renewable energy is becoming a tangible reality due to increasing availability and decreased cost of technology. The United States receives more energy in the form of sunlight in less than 40 minutes than from all the fossil fuels we burn every year; therefore, it has high sustainability potential as an energy source for both homes and businesses. Climate change and growing electricity costs have pushed towards an alternative: renewable energy. But any change is not without its neigh-sayers; therefore, it’s necessary to debunk any myths that people have about solar energy, because misguided perception is almost always part of the problem.
Myth 1: Solar-powered devices only work well in warm, sunny climates.
Solar technologies are geographically versatile: they can work even in cloudy areas. The provision of this energy is from storage containers that make the allocation of solar-powered energy possible when direct sun is not available. Some photovoltaic systems can provide people with enough energy to go up to 30 days without sunlight.
Despite the fact that we think solar panels work better in warmer weather, the actual truth is that solar panels are more efficient in cooler climates. A cloudy, cool area can still successfully sustain A country like Germany that severely lacks sunny days is still able to be one of the solar capitals of the world.
Myth 2: Solar Energy is too expensive.
According to Eskom (power utility company in Africa), a unit of electricity from their coal plants will cost about $0.97 while a unit of solar energy will cost approximately $0.89. There’s also no input cost for the energy source. Many companies use coal for plants that generate electricity and this coal costs money (unless you own a mine too). The sun is free.
Also, many states have incentives that make switching the solar energy well worth it. Some incentives cover anywhere from 30-80 percent of the system costs, which is a powerful motivation to consider alternative energy. With companies that sell the systems providing financing options, the barrier of entry is so low that there’s much less room for excuses why individuals don’t try solar power.
Myth 3: Solar panels required constant and extensive maintenance.
Despite this belief, solar panels require little-to-no maintenance beyond the initial installation. You can hose off the panels once in a while to prevent too much dirt build-up but; for the most part, natural precipitation is enough to clear most debris from solar panels. Many panels even come with a monitor that can tell you if anything is interfering with the output of the panel, making it much easier to determine if there’s obstructive debris on the panels.
Myth 4: Solar panels are unattractive and will be an eyesore on my roof.
Many companies have started to refine solar panel styles to match more seamlessly with your roof. There are even “solar shingles” that look exactly like the shingles on your roof and operates like a solar panel. Solar panels have become so versatile that it now can match slate, metal, fiber-cement, and asphalt roofing.
Myth 5: Solar panels are unreliable and inconsistent
According to The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, photovoltaics is “the most reliable source of electric power ever invented.” Because a solar panel has no moving parts, it’s an incredibly reliable structure. Many of the panels have been rigorously tested in laboratories, and many companies provide a 20-30 year guarantee on their products. In addition, these systems must meet the requirements of national and local building and utility codes, which even further guarantees return on the investment of solar panels.
If you haven’t yet noticed, due to the rising cost of electricity cooling your home in the summer has gotten so expensive that people depend on fans and accept profusely sweating in order to keep the cost of utilities down. Foreign governments have realized the growing cost of energy and have long been providing incentives to individuals and organizations that utilize renewable technologies, but this is still a fairly new practice in the United States.
If it’s not even being widely-used in the United States compared to foreign countries, then why should you care about solar energy?
First of all, the source of the energy is renewable and limitless. It produces energy through nuclear fusion, in which hydrogen fuses into helium. As long as we have the sun, we will always have solar energy. The Earth receives approximately 400 trillion watts of power every day, which is more than enough energy for the entire world (like 8,000 times over!). The sun emits enough energy to the Earth in one hour to power the world for an entire year.
People are declaring war over control of oil production and supply and the situation isn’t getting any better. We need a source of energy that is universally available to prevent global conflict over a single energy source. Solar energy is universally abundantly available, and will become even more so with new technologies to more efficiently harness solar energy.
The more research that we do, the more we find how to harness it at the least cost, but research also takes money and support. This is why believing in solar energy is so important: the more people behind an issue, the more attention I get and; therefore, the more funding it receives.
Focus on solar energy can save the environment. The burning of fossil fuels is a contributor to our climate crisis. The effects of this include higher sea levels, extreme weather, destruction of coral reefs, less oxygen for marine life and drastic blows to the food chain.
Finally, there’s one benefit to solar energy that everyone should care about: money. The federal government gives a tax break to citizens who install solar panels in their homes. Between the rebates and the lower cost of installation of solar panels, industry figures indicate that solar power users saved approximately $80 per month on their energy.
Solar energy isn’t necessarily the sole solution to our energy problem – it’s not without its faults, but it’s an energy source that you should certainly care about. More education for lawmakers on new technologies to make harnessing solar energy more efficient is certainly necessary though if the United States is going to catch up to other countries in utilizing solar energy.
Photovoltaics has become a more important topic due to the surge in people opting for renewable energy. It uses our most plentiful resource: the sun. In 2013, use of photovoltaic energy increased by 38% and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. This process is especially important to understand if you’re going to eventually install solar panels on your home or business roof.
Photovoltaics is a process that generates electrical power through converting sunlight into current electricity through the use of semiconductors. These semiconductors exhibit the photovoltaic effect, in which photons of light are converted into electrons. When these electrons are captured, the resulting current can be used as electricity (Little fun fact: The photovoltaic effect, developed by Albert Einstein in 1905, won him the Nobel prize in physics). After NASA started using the technology in 1960, the cost of designing and using the technology declined to the point where by 1970, it became more common for use outside of NASA.
The photovoltaic effect is based on the operations of called solar cells, which are made of the semiconductor material silicon. monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide/sulfide Below is a diagram of a basic solar cell. As you can see, sunlight hits the semiconductor and the electricity produced turns on the light bulb. This is because the sunlight knocks electrons free from the semiconductor material, and if there is a circuit formed, those loose electrons form an electric current that is used to provide energy to the light source.
A group of solar cells interconnected and mounted on a framework is often called a solar panel or a solar module. The output is measured in volts, with a common solar panel output being 12 volts. The larger the surface of the panel, the more electricity is produced.
Photovoltaic has come extraordinarily far in the last 50 years: IKEA announced that it would sell solar modules in 17 United Kingdom IKEA stores by the end of July 2014. Currently, the world generates enough solar power to power 40 million households in the world, and solar energy represents almost 1% of worldwide electricity demand. By the year 2020, scientists predict that there will be enough solar energy produced to fulfill the energy needs of 9% of the world’s population. It’s only a matter of time before the photovoltaic technology becomes cheap and efficient enough to be on every roof, in every town, in every country.
Now that we’ve talked about what solar energy is, what it’s not and photovoltaics, we’re going to discuss the anatomy of a solar cell. These solar cells individually form a much greater structure that powers homes, commercial buildings and even larger industrial buildings. Sometimes we forget about the little guy – the lone cell that makes the entire system work.
Before we get into the composition of a solar cell, there’re a few terms you should know first: photon, diode, current, voltage and semiconductor. A photon is a beam of light – pretty simple, right? There’s a much more complicated description, but this simple explanation is all that’s necessary to understand a photovoltaic cell. These photons travel through a material known as a semiconductor in a current of electricity. An electric field causes a voltage as the electric current acts as a diode that pushes electrons from one side of a surface to the other side, and voltages are how we get power. When we get an electrical charge called a direct current, it enters an inverter that converts it into an alternating current that is fed through a utility panel. This is how light becomes power.
Most photovoltaic cells are made from sheets of silicon. Silicon is used because it’s an incredible semiconductor material. Electrons can very easily travel through it in a current to generate power. The problem is that silicon is extremely shiny, and when used as-is for photovoltaic cells, the photons would bounce right off the cell. To remedy this problem, each cell is sprayed with an anti-reflective coating to reduce the reflection loss to below 5%. A firm glass plate covers photovoltaic cells to prevent them from the elements or other damage.
A long-standing problem has been the efficiency of the photovoltaic cell. Some can absorb sunlight at 25%, but most absorb sunlight at 18% or less, but recently there’s been advances to efficiency that has allowed cells to absorb sunlight at over 40%.
There are three types of solar cells: amorphous, monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Small cells such as calculators usually employ amorphous technology. It’s made by depositing a thin film of silicon onto a material like steel. The cells are not as visible but the efficiency is much lower. They require up to three times the number of cells to output the same amount of energy as one crystalline cell, so an amorphous solar panel takes up much more space. It also has a shorter life-cycle, which means you get less for your investment. Mono-crystalline cells are made with a single ingot of crystal silicon that is cut into a thin wafer and shaped into a square. With poly cells, molten silicon is poured into a square shell. A multifaceted surface results from the differing rates of the crystal silicon drying in various areas of the square shell.
Solar cells are a fascinating modern technology that gets smaller and more efficient with every passing year. This means that even lower income family can enjoy the energy benefits and financial incentives that go along with adopting solar technology.
The days are gone when a choice had to be made between saving our planet and saving money by choosing to go solar. Solar power can actually work for you. The weather, so far, accounts for the single only risk involved with installing a solar power system on your rooftop. The instabilities with the weather, such as days with little to no sunshine equal a decrease in energy used in your home. The amount of energy used in your home, theoretically, may fluctuate like the weather.
Seeing a Return on your Solar Power Unit Investment
Some refunds offered when you install a solar power unit are subject to the highs and lows of the stock market. Other refunds and incentives vary from state to state. Receiving a return on your venture has many fewer risks than other ventures, nevertheless, equipment failures and other ups and downs in the stock market affect the refund and your return.
Line your Pockets, not the Power Company’s Pockets
The most worthwhile investment with the highest rewards is investing in your own residential solar power panels. The return and rewards, have an utmost high stability rate and have the staying power to last you well into your retirement years. The choice is whether you decide to lease the solar power unit directly from the solar energy company, or if you decide to borrow money from your bank and purchase the unit.
Solar Units add Value should you Decide to sell your Home
Across the globe, real estate agents comment about what types of projects or upgrades bring our homes added value. The homes with solar power units installed on the roof and other useful places benefit from rising property values. A home’s resale value increases when homeowners decide to invest in a solar power unit.
It may not be every day; we improve the Earth’s atmosphere and save money simultaneously. One way to cut down on our fossil fuel use is to employ solar panels to work for us.
Fun fact: In Nevada, one air force base saves $83,000 a month utilizing solar power.
We have discussed photovoltaic cells and groups of cells called modules. Now we delve a little deeper into modules and discuss a module type that has been gaining in popularity and lowering in cost: the solar shingle.
Prior to 2005, many of those who have chosen to go solar have opted for modules that bolt onto the roof or into the group, simply because solar shingles were more costly, but this has since changed. As demand has increased, the cost of input products changed and manufacturing of solar cells became more efficient, the price has decreased considerably. There are much fewer excuses for not going solar!
Can solar shingles function as regular shingles? Absolutely. The solar shingles aren’t there for vanity’s sake. They are made to withstand typical weather conditions like regular shingles. They fight against brutal storms. They are flexible and practical.
Dow Chemical Company is one of the primary manufacturers in solar shingles. The first ones appeared in 2005, but Dow has perfected the manufacturing over time and, since 2011, the price of solar shingles has dropped dramatically. Dow’s estimate that the solar shingle market value will reach almost $5 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2020.
Solar shingles are typically 12×86 inches and have a dark, purplish-blue color. It can sometimes be mixed intermittently with regular shingles or other special installation, and people choose this option when going solar because of its aesthetic value. Dow’s new Powerhouse line introduces new technology all the time – recently it was the Copper Indium Gallium Selenide solar cell. These are not only efficient but can mix in with the regular asphalt panels of the roof shingles.
There are significant savings in going solar. Dow reports that approximately 350 solar shingles can shave 40-60% off electricity bills. With the high cost of electricity, this adds up to huge savings. The cost of installation will pay for itself over and over again. Installations can amount to as much as $20,000, but state and federal incentives can make the cost of installation half that amount. In fact, twenty-seven states now have some pretty hefty incentives. The Federal government offers 30% tax credit with no purchasing limit on solar equipment.
Solar shingles are widely available. As of early 2014, Dow solar shingles are available in Louisiana, North Carolina, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
With the lower cost of solar shingles available in material that is more aesthetically pleasing, there’s no better time to go solar than now.