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Solar Panels

Switching to solar energy can help you save money on your energy bills, while also reducing your carbon footprint significantly. To make this switch, you’ll need to invest in solar panels for your home or business. Here are a few things you may want to know about solar panels before making the change.

How do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels work through the use of photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. Photovoltaic cells contain special materials such as silicon, which is used as a semiconductor. What happens is that when the light hits the cell, some of it is absorbed by the semiconductor. The energy produced by this process then allows electrons within the cell to flow freely.

Photovoltaic cells also have at least one electronic field that forces electrons to flow in a certain direction. This in turn produces a current, which can be tapped into by placing metal contacts on the top and bottom of the cell, and then used to power something with.

Types of Solar Panels

Although nearly all solar panels are constructed in the same manner, there are nonetheless many different types available. A few of the most common are rectangular, triangular, flexible and integrated. Rectangular and triangular solar panels can be installed on nearly any type of roof, with triangular ones being better whenever the surface has unusual angles to it. Integrated panels work best on tile roofs, while flexible ones are designed especially for placement on flat roofs.

Choosing Solar Panels

When choosing solar panels for your home, there’s a lot to consider aside from the price. A few things you should consider are:

  • The panel’s efficiency, which is measured by comparing the ratio of power output to its square footage
  • Length and type of warranty provided-25 years is standard among many manufacturers
  • Amount and type of maintenance required
  • What if any energy rebates are available
  • Brand, as choosing a solar panel from a reputable manufacturer is highly recommended

Solar panels are different sizes in watts as well, and this will also affect their cost. They are normally rated in dollars per watt, with the number of watts corresponding directly to the output of each panel. For example, a 100-watt panel will ideally produce 100-watt hours of electricity each hour. The larger the size in watts, the more money you can expect to pay for each panel.

Manufacturing Tiers

Solar panel manufacturers are also rated into three different “tiers” according to the quality of products they produce. As such, Tier 1 panels will likely cost more than Tier 3 panels will, but will also provide you with better output and require fewer repairs over their lifetime. Some characteristics of the different tiers are:

  • Manufacturers of Tier 1 panels invest heavily in research and development, use advanced robotic processes when manufacturing their panels, and have been making them for more than five years. Only two percent of all solar panel manufacturers meet these requirements.
  • Tier 2 manufacturers are considered “small to medium scale” producers of solar panels. They generally have made little to no contribution to the research and development of new processes, and primarily use humans rather than robots to produce their products. Tier 2 companies have been making solar panels for between two and five years.
  • Tier 3 manufacturers are those who only assemble panels, and do not manufacture silicon cells. They have been in business for one to two years, primarily use humans on their assembly lines, and have not invested in research and development. Approximately 90% of all new solar panels are made by Tier 3 companies.

You can expect the best quality panels from a Tier 1 company; however, such panels may be extremely expensive or difficult to come by. Tier 2 panels are normally easier to acquire and somewhat friendlier on the budget, which is why they are most often chosen by homeowners.

Mounting and Installation

Solar panels are typically placed on either the east or west side of your roof, as this is where they will receive the most sunlight. A contractor might also look at the amount of shade available when making a decision about their placement. After that, your latitude tilt will also need to be calculated. Latitude tilt is the angle at which your panels will be tilted to receive optimum sunlight, and is figured based upon your geographical latitude.

After calculating the tilt, mounts are then placed on top of your rafters approximately four feet apart. Steel bolts are then used to anchor the mounts to your rafters, and then the area around them will be sealed to prevent air loss. Next, the panels will be attached to the mounts and then connected to your home’s electrical supply. The services of a professional electrician could be needed in order to complete this step.

Benefits of Solar Panels

The biggest benefit of solar panels is the fact that they save people money. In fact, your solar panels could pay for themselves, or even generate income for you over the long haul. They also reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce greenhouse emissions. Solar energy is reliable, since the sun rises and sets on a daily basis, and it is also easy to predict the number of sunny days a given location will have in a year.

Caring for Solar Panels

Very little maintenance is required in order to care for solar panels. If you live in an area that receives a great deal of snow during the winter, you may need to remove matter from your solar panels so they can operate efficiently. You can also hose them off with clear water from time to time, provided your water is not extremely hard. Minerals from hard water can calcify on the solar panel, thereby rendering it ineffective. Never use any harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners on your panels, as this could damage the delicate coatings over top of them.

Solar panels have evolved quite a bit over the years, yet are actually rather simple when you get right down to it. They are likely to become even more cost-effective and efficient in the future, meaning that more and more people are likely to have them installed on their homes.