With all the current uproar about energy resources and energy costs, you may be looking into every available alternative to lower your own energy bill. One alternative you may have started to consider is solar power. As their prices have come down, their effectiveness has gone up, and Congress offers a 30 percent federal tax credit for installing them that’s available through the end of this year. In as little as five years, solar panels could pay for themselves. But are they the right option for you? Here what you need to know before making the decision.
You’ve seen them on rooftops, office buildings, and even calculators and watches: solar cells. These solar cells, also called photovoltaics (PV), convert sunlight directly into electricity. PVs are made of semiconducting materials similar to those used in computer chips. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy shakes loose electrons from their atoms, allowing those electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect.
Solar cells are usually put together into modules that hold about 40 cells. Then ten of the 40-cell modules are mounted on flat plate arrays (we know them as solar panels). These flat-plate PV arrays can be mounted at a fixed angle facing south, or they can be mounted on a tracking device that follows the sun, allowing them to capture the most sunlight over the course of a day. Ten to twenty PV arrays can provide enough power for the average American household. Hundreds interconnected are needed for large electric utility or industrial applications.
There are, naturally, pros and cons to using solar panels.
l No carbon emissions, no pollution, and no waste. It’s some of the cleanest energy you’re bound to find in this or any other galaxy.
l Freeing yourself (at least partially) from power companies. No more dependence on the power grid system, no more being at the mercy of outages and rate hikes.
l Price. The average cost for a home installation of the typical solar panel system is $35,000. There are two types of solar panel systems: solar thermal system and the solar electric system. The solar thermal system is less expensive than solar electric systems. Solar thermal systems can cost as little as $7,700, but a typical solar electric system costs about $44,000. Rebates are available for the installation of solar panels.
l They must be protected from mechanical damage (in particular against hail impact, wind and snow loads, ice). This is especially important for wafer-based silicon cells which are brittle.
l Some people think they look bad up there on the roof. Prior to installing solar panels, you’ll need to check with your neighborhood HOA to ensure you won’t be breaking any bylaws.
Before getting solar panels, here are some other questions you should consider to make sure solar panels right for you.
How does your roof slant? Since solar panels rely on sunlight exposure, you’ll need to consider how much sunlight your home receives. Houses that have south-facing roofs are the most productive.
What’s the angle of your roof? The ideal angle for solar panels is a 30-degree slant.
What type of roofing material do you have? Asphalt shingles or corrugated metal roofs are the easiest to install on.
If you have the right roof and you’re ready to go green, then get investing in solar panels may be the right option for you!