As the wave of environmental consciousness and the cost of electricity have risen, so has the popularity of solar power and other renewable energy alternatives. Solar energy has become the world’s fastest-growing source of power and there’s no indication that this incredible growth will slow down any time soon. The many available solar tax incentives and financing assistance programs that are available now only serve to make solar energy solutions more accessible. Homeowners and business owners interested in installing solar panels should educate themselves on how solar works.
Contrary to popular belief, solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to work. They can generate energy using any daylight. Light carries small particles called photons. Each photon carries a small amount of electromagnetic force, which is what gets converted into energy. When the light hits the solar panels, the photons are absorbed into the cells. The semiconductors inside the solar panels convert the photons into electrons and then send them through an electrical circuit to power your home or business. Your solar panels will be mounted to a system either on your roof or in the ground outside your home.
Although most warranties for solar panel systems are for 20-year terms, the actual lifespan of a typical solar energy system is much longer. Their energy output capability decreases by a fraction of a percentage point annually
Traditional electricity companies adjust their rates every quarter, which means prices are always on the rise. Switching to solar allows you to achieve energy independence so you can enjoy cost savings and consistent, transparent pricing
Even if you don’t plan to stay in the same location for another 20 years, installing solar panels may still be worth it. Solar-powered homes and commercial buildings sell for up to $5,911 per kilowatt more than comps without solar panels.
Solar panels are comprised of photovoltaic (PV) cells. The PV themselves are made up of thin layers of a semiconductor, such as silicon. The top layer is coated with phosphorus to create a negative charge and the bottom layer is coated with boron to create a positive charge. The layers in between are a silicon junction, which functions like an electrical circuit. On either side of the cell, there are conductive plates. These materials allow the PV cells to convert the photons in sunlight into usable energy.
For your home or business to run on solar, you need more than just the panels. A solar energy system has several other parts, such as a mounting system, inverters, and solar array disconnects. The mounting system is what attaches the panels to your roof or property and positions them to receive as much sunlight as possible. Inverters convert the direct current electricity your panels produce into alternating current electricity, which is the kind of electricity used to power a home. Solar array disconnects are a safety feature that allows you to disconnect your solar energy system from your home’s electrical system during maintenance or repairs.
When you install solar panels, there are two types of systems you can choose from: a grid-tied solar system and a standalone solar system. Grid-tied systems are still connected to the power grid so that if your system is underproducing, you have a backup energy source. If it’s overproducing, you can sell excess power back to your utility provider. Standalone systems offer true energy independence; they are typically installed with batteries that can store excess energy for use overnight or during overcast periods when your system isn’t working at full efficiency.
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The photovoltaic effect was first observed in 1839 by Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist, although the first workable solar cell wasn’t invented until 1954. At this time, Bell Labs was able to begin to understand how the PV effect works. President Jimmy Carter signed the Solar Photovoltaic Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Act in 1978, ushering in a period of rapid technological advancement. Initially, the adoption of solar technology was slow because of the inefficiency of PV cells of the era. However, in 1985, the University of South Wales broke the 20% efficiency barrier. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory topped that in 1994 by producing a solar cell capable of exceeding 30% conversion efficiency. Since then, PV cells have continued to get smaller, more affordable, and more suitable for widespread use.
You can expect at least 20 years of production from your solar panels. Solar panels experience degradation that decreases their efficiency over time at a rate of approximately .5% per year. The typical solar energy system has a warranty of 20 years, but a properly installed and well-maintained solar system can last much longer. To better understand what kind of lifespan you can expect from your solar panels, speak to your solar installer about weather conditions and panel placements to see if there’s an installation solution for your home or business that can help combat deterioration.
The price of switching to solar varies dramatically depending on the size of your system, the type of panels and equipment you choose, the financial incentives you qualify for, and where you live. However, if you break down cost by panel, the US average is between $200 and $250 per panel. In most cases, the cost of a solar power system is similar to paying 6-10 years of electricity expenses upfront. It’s advisable to request quotes from solar installation companies to get a better idea of how much you can expect to pay.
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