Before installing solar panels for your home, it is crucial to understand just how this technology works, so you know exactly what you’re getting. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before getting your solar panels installed. The more understanding you have of solar power, the better you can utilize these clean energy systems.
What Is Solar Power?
Solar power is harnessed through a system of solar photovoltaics (or solar PV for short) that convert sunlight into electrical energy. Solar PV is used in solar panels, and these panels in turn are connected to a building’s electrical system and are generally used for small- or medium-sized applications — like powering a home or a business.
In addition to solar PV, larger systems in solar power stations sometimes use a method known as concentrated solar power, or CSP, which uses lenses and mirrors to concentrate large areas of sunlight into smaller beams. However, photovoltaic power stations are popular in Europe and are gaining ground in the United States, as well.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels get their power from what is called the photovoltaic effect. This process causes photons of light to “excite” electrons into a higher state of energy, which in turn allows them to carry an electrical current. The solar panels consist of a number of solar cells containing photovoltaic materials, such as monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and/or copper indium gallium selenide/sulfide.
For private use, solar panels are typically either mounted onto parts of a building, like the roof or walls, or are built directly into their structures. When installed in what is called a solar PV array, the solar panels are wired together in order to provide the desired power-producing capabilities. Because solar panels produce direct current (DC) power, they must use an inverter to convert that power to the alternating current (AC) power supplied by electrical utility companies. Many homes that use solar power are still grid-connected, so if the power goes out, the inverter will shut down the solar power, as well. This is a safety precaution taken in case utility workers have to fix the power lines.
The AC power travels through the wires and into the net meter to be distributed throughout the home. Net metering is a state regulation that lets residents use their own electricity, and then the state credits them at the retail rate for the unused energy they produce. By getting paid for the excess energy, homeowners can see yet another cost advantage to using solar power.
How Are Solar Panels Installed?
The best way for a home or business owner to experience the advantages of solar power is to contact an installation service. Solar PV providers can draw up an estimate and evaluate the energy needs of a building, and they can also ensure that the solar panel system complies with state regulations and secure any necessary local permits for these constructions.
Before getting solar panels installed, property owners need to consider whether or not they have an optimal location to take advantage of solar power. Too many trees around a home may provide shade and cooling when the weather gets hot, but even a little bit of shading can decrease the efficiency of a solar PV system. If installing solar panels on the roof, that part of the structure should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. A roof should also be tilted to about 30 to 45 degrees in order to see optimal solar energy performance; however, an installation service can also provide a mounting system that will bring the panels to the correct angle.
Why Use a Solar PV System?
Solar panels are become more desirable by homeowners because they are seen as a “clean” source of energy when compared to the use of fossil fuels and other finite resources. Solar power is also renewable and produces no emissions of greenhouse gases, making it one of the most environmentally friendly forms of energy available.
Every 1,000 kWh of energy generated by a solar PV system instead of fossil fuels prevents 2.03 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 0.54 pounds of nitrogen oxides, and 1,102 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere. These air pollutants not only cause respiratory problems in humans but also deplete the ozone layer, in turn contributing to climate change.
In addition to the environmental benefits of solar power, many home and business owners also look to solar PV systems for their cost savings over time when compared to grid power. By lessening dependence on public power, solar panel owners can see these systems pay for themselves within five to eight years time. Not only do homeowners avoid paying for electricity each month, but they can also see the value of their home rise, as well. There are also a number of federal and state tax credits available to owners of residential solar power systems.
What to Expect from Your Solar PV Installation
One thing that customers invariably have on their minds when considering solar PV systems is cost. Before rebates and tax credits, a typical system can cost anywhere from $16,000 to $40,000, but this number can vary greatly depending on property type and size, location, and the need for additional products and services.
However, cost should not be the only thing to consider before installing solar panels, and highest price doesn’t mean highest quality. Solar PV systems are not “one size fits all” for every home and commercial property. If you’re looking into this energy efficient option, it’s best to sit down with an installation service to think about what you really want out of solar power. Consider such aspects as:
Quality and Design
When choosing a solar array (or display of solar panels), the first step is to schedule a site visit to make sure that your home is solar-ready. An installer can work out the best location and design for solar panels, and help choose the correct number of modules (or individual solar panels). Solar arrays are available in a number of shapes and sizes to suit just about any rooftop, and they can be installed with solar racks if the roof’s pitch isn’t at the angle it need to be.
One concern that homeowners may have is how well solar panels can withstand extreme weather. Because solar panels are mounted on the roof, Massachusetts residents, especially, may worry about snow and ice collecting on the solar array during the winters, but there is nothing to fear. Solar panels are dark in color and heat up as they collect their energy from the sun. Therefore, snow melts easily off of their slick, tempered-glass surfaces. High-quality solar panels are designed to withstand hailstorms, winds of up to 100 mph, and even lightning strikes.
A design for a solar array should also take into account other factors, such as the amount of electricity needed and the shade on the property. Ideally, the solar array should have an unobstructed view of the southern sky in order to work properly; if this isn’t available on the roof, you may need a ground-mounted system.
Once a design has been approved for your home, the installers should secure the necessary local permits for the additions onto a home. Installations also require inspections and input from licensed electricians in order to get the job done properly. All of this information should be included in a written contract between you and the installation service.
If you are applying for rebates or other credits, such as the Commonwealth Solar II Rebate Program, the necessary forms must be filed before the installation begins, so make sure to get this done ahead of time. The installer should also make arrangements to have utilities interconnected with the solar PV system if you are looking to receive rebates.
The installation itself should include services such as the delivery of materials to the job site, any prep work for that installation, electrical work to install the correct wiring and inverter, and the installation of the solar array. In addition to the solar array, D/C and A/C isolators and inverters need to be installed, and connections to the circuit breaker or fuse box and meter must be made by the installation service.
Before you can finally use your solar PV system, however, it must undergo an inspection from a local wiring inspector and a building inspector to make sure everything is safe and up to code. The utility company must also confirm that the solar PV system safely connects to the power grid.
We will also leave you with a copy of the warranty and any technical manuals, so you can feel comfortable using your new solar PV system.