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Solar Power

Solar power is energy that the sun produces and that is collected somewhere else. Energy from the sun comes in two forms: heat and light. Solar energy may be harnessed by using the sun's heat or by converting its light into electricity. The use of solar panels for the conversion of sunlight to electricity is the most common way of harnessing solar energy.

Solar Panels

These are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells. PV cells were originally invented to power satellites and can produce enough electricity to power a 100-watt light bulb. Solar panels are arrayed to efficiently capture sunlight and convert it to electricity or heat. They are used in everything from pocket calculators and watches to home HVAC systems.

Using Solar Energy for Heating

Solar energy is especially well suited to heating since the power does not have to be transformed. A common use of solar energy is in the heating of water for a home. Solar power may also be used to provide heat for a building, though this takes more energy and therefore larger solar panels will have to be used.

The Components of a Solar Panel System

To harness solar energy, certain pieces of equipment will be needed; the typical home solar panel system consists of:

  • PV Panels This is where the sun's energy is collected, making it one of the most vital parts of the system. It is also one of the more expensive elements. How PV panels are placed will determine the effectiveness of the system.
  • Equipment for Mounting Solar Panels Two factors will have to be taken into consideration when mounting solar panels: position and longevity. PV panels have to be mounted where they get the most sunlight and where they are likely to stay put for a long time. Tracking mounts may be used so that the solar panels will get the maximum amount of sunlight possible regardless of the time of day. They allow the panels to be moved to face the sun and some can change both elevation and azimuth.
  • Batteries These allow the electricity generated by the PV panels to be stored so that the household can get a consistent supply of energy over time. Deep cycle batteries are designed to be discharged and recharged repeatedly and so are best for a solar panel system.
  • Charge Controller Bright sunlight can increase the voltage being put out by the solar panels, which can overcharge and damage the batteries. A charge controller provides regulation, which can keep batteries from being overcharged. Prevention of overcharging lengthens battery life and improves performance.
  • Inverters These convert the low voltage, high current electricity from the PV panels to electricity that is compatible with the grid. Some inverters allow for their readings to be checked on a smartphone or computer. Homeowners should always keep an eye on their inverter’s reading so that they know if the power production falls below normal levels
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  • Disconnect Switches These may be used to disconnect the solar panels from household electricity in the event of a malfunction.
  • Connections to Household Wiring This is the hardware necessary to connect PV panels to a home's wiring.

Installing solar panels can save on electricity, but homeowners should be aware that those savings may not be immediate but come over several years.

Shopping for Solar Panel Systems

Here are some tips for finding the right home solar panel system.

  • Make an Educated Decision The first step in shopping for a solar panel system for a house should involve research. Much of the information that a homeowner will need to make an educated decision can be found online. One of the areas on which they should focus is the choice of solar panel manufacturer. There are many manufacturers and no rating system that allows them to be categorized according to quality.
  • Find an Installer Installers may be found by contacting the state agency that oversees solar utilities. They should have a database of certified contractors. Once the homeowner has settled on a particular installer, they should read any contract paperwork carefully so that they know exactly what to expect from their solar panel system.
  • Weigh the Costs The average system can cost as much as $25,000 but there is considerable variation so it is a good idea for homeowners to compare different systems. If a homeowner cannot afford to spend that much money up front, the next best option is to lease a system. With a lease, the homeowner will pay a certain rate over a period of between 15 and 20 years. This rate will be fixed regardless of how much power the system produces. Homeowners should note that this rate could go up over time. A third option is a power purchase agreement where the rate is calculated based on the amount of electricity the system produces.
  • Find Out About Regional Incentives Incentives are among the factors that will determine the overall cost of purchasing and installing a home solar panel system. Incentives and rebates can cut the cost of a solar panel installation down to as little as $7,000 in some cases; that $7,000 does not take into account the savings on energy.

Benefits of Solar Energy

  • The installation of solar panels allows energy to be produced that does not result in waste or pollution.
  • Once properly installed, solar panels do not require a lot of maintenance.
  • Solar energy is renewable, unlike fossil fuels.
  • The production of solar panels has very little impact on the environment.
  • Solar energy can enable homeowners to be energy independent; the sun is free for everyone and therefore no one can increase its cost or restrict its use.
  • When compared to other sources of renewable energy, only solar power has the capacity to provide more power than is used. It is possible to supply 12.1 billion people with 2.4kW each, which is the amount of power that the average American uses each year.

The use of fossil fuels to provide energy is causing global warming. Some experts believe that some of the consequences are presently being felt. Among the changes to expect are higher sea levels and an increase in extreme weather. It is also expected that the coral in the world's oceans will completely die off in the near future, which will greatly affect the marine life that depends on coral reefs for survival. Solar energy has the potential to dramatically reduce mankind's dependence on non-renewable, environmentally destructive fossil fuels.