Solar panels guide

Solar Panels: The Ultimate Guide

Each year, hundreds of thousands of homeowners decide to invest in new solar panels and solar energy technology.

Today’s solar cells and solar system solutions are much more efficient, much more affordable, and much more reliable than ever before, making the decision to upgrade (relatively) straightforward.

At the same time, though, with so many different kinds of solar energy systems out there – and so many different ways to upgrade your home’s electricity infrastructure with solar power – finding the right solutions for your specific needs is anything but easy.

But that’s why we put together this detailed guide.

By the time you’re done with the information below, you’ll have a much better idea of how to find the right solar energy system, how to save on overall solar panel cost breakdowns, and how to find the right people to handle your solar installation as well.

Ready to get started?

Let’s jump right in!

solar panels installation

Quick History of Solar Panel Technology

You don’t necessarily need to know the complete ins and outs of solar panel history to invest in a quality system for your home – but it doesn’t hurt to know at least a bit of how far today’s solar technology has come compared to the earliest iteration of solar.

While there are primitive examples of solar power being used as early as the seventh century BC, “modern” solar power systems weren’t invented until the early 1800s.

A French scientist named Edmond Becquerel first began experimenting with photovoltaic energy production using a tiny cell made of metal electrodes and a conductive solution.

At first, the early experiments were frustrating, but when the admin exposed his new creation to sunlight, he noticed a significant uptick in electricity production.

It wouldn’t be until 1873, when another scientist named Willoughby Smith discovered that selenium could be used as a photoconductor, that solar technology started to take off.

Solar panels technology

Three years later, a team of scientists combined the photovoltaic principles pioneered by Edmond Becquerel with the selenium discovery by Smith. The result was a new technology that could generate electricity after being exposed to light alone.

In 1883 the American inventor Charles Fritz used these groundbreaking discoveries to create the first selenium solar cell. Today we use silicon for our panel construction, but selenium was the “gold standard” for more than 100 years.

Other famous scientists like Albert Einstein, the engineers at NASA, and modern innovators pushed solar technology further into the future by leveraging the early discoveries of solar energy pioneered by the giants we highlighted above.

Without their work and early contributions, solar cells would look completely different from today, and solar energy would be nowhere near as viable.

Highlighting the Different Types of Solar Panels

Though there are dozens of different varieties of solar cell technology available on the market today, the overwhelming majority of commercially available solar systems are built on the back of three main panel types:

  • Monocrystalline solar panel technology
  • Polycrystalline solar panel technology
  • Thin-film solar panel technology

Each of these three solar energy system solutions works to produce the same results (reliable and renewable energy straight from the sun is as cost-effective and energy-efficient away as possible). Still, each solar panel system solution takes different approaches to produce those results.

Before you spend any money on solar cells or solar panels, you need to be sure that you are investing in the right equipment for your home.

You want to be sure that your residential solar system is going to be more than capable of producing all the energy you need (hopefully more power than you need) without costing an arm and a leg along the way – all while leveraging the sun’s energy to get the job done.

Monocrystalline

Monocrystalline panels are trendy today because of their high energy efficiency rating and overall performance in electricity produced.

These panels are made up of various silicon wafers assembled into neat little rows and columns, basically creating a solar cell array that is put underneath a glass sheet.

Monocrystalline panels are made with solar cells that have been cut from a single crystal of silicon. This is why they are capable of such staggering amounts of energy produced – though it’s also why they have a much higher average cost, too.

Monocrystalline solar panels

Polycrystalline

Polycrystalline panels also use crystalline silicon to capture the sun’s renewable energy and transform it into usable electricity.

Instead of using singular crystals to produce solar cells, polycrystalline panels are made up of multiple fragments of silicon crystals melted down together and then cut into the cell wafers inside of a solar system.

This helps to keep costs lower than monocrystalline options, but it does reduce the overall efficiency and effectiveness per watt that these panels have.

You’ll still be able to produce electricity reliably and safely, but you’re not going to be able to handle quite as much energy consumption with polycrystalline versus monocrystalline setups.

Polycrystalline solar panels

Thin Film

Thin-film panels take a different approach when it comes to going solar.

Highly portable and almost unbelievably flexible, thin-film panels allow you to take advantage of maximum exposure to sunlight anywhere and everywhere you might find yourself – including on the go – in a way that traditional panels can allow.

These panels are often very lightweight and can even be rolled up and taken with you, making them the perfect solution for folks that need power “off the grid”.

But, of course, the kilowatt-hour production rate out of these panels is reduced compared to the crystalline options we mentioned a moment ago. But that’s to be expected.

You’ll still have more power than you would have had with almost any other solar technology outside of crystalline options – and you’ll have the portability of this PV system, too.

Thin Film Solar Panels

Thin-film solar panels are almost always made out of either a combination of cadmium telluride or amorphous silicon.

Copper indium gallium selenide panels are becoming more popular by the day. They do a fantastic job of handling all the power your solar energy system produces and do a great job of handling energy storage.

Finding the right panels for your specific needs when you choose to go solar comes down to looking at the three options above and finding the solar energy system that makes the most sense for your home and your energy needs.

This is something to talk to a solar installation team about. Those experts would help you better understand solar panel cost breakdowns, the return on your investment, and the kind of solar panel efficiency you can expect to get out of the different types if they were installed at your home.

Solar Panel Maintenance

One thing that every solar installer is going to make very clear to you right out of the gate is that while these panels may be a little bit expensive up front, they more than pay for themselves in record time – and they require very little upkeep or maintenance, too.

Sure, each solar energy system is unique, and some will require more upkeep than others. But for the most part, these solar cells are a natural “set it and forget it” kind of setup that you’re not going to have to babysit all that often.

Proper installation of the solar cells will have them attached to the roof of your home at an angle that pitches rain, snow, and debris off of them all on their own. You might have to scrub down your solar panels twice to four times a year (especially if you’re dealing with particularly dry and dusty stretches), but you shouldn’t have to do a lot of extra maintenance than this each year.

If you live in a snowy climate, you’ll probably have to scrape accumulated snow off of your panels now and again – if you want, you’re to see your panels produce, anyway!

Too much snow accumulation (we are talking about an inch or two sitting down on top of your panels) won’t just eliminate any hopes for excess power production but will be coproduction almost completely.

Solar panel maintenance

On top of that, excess snow accumulation that is left to melt and freeze on top of panels can be one of the key factors that leads these panels to break down, fall apart, and degrade much sooner than they would have otherwise.

Outside of cleaning off your panels now and again, there’s not a whole lot else you have to do from a maintenance perspective.

It’s not a bad idea to visually inspect your panels every time you clean them, though.

This will give you a good idea about the condition of the panels themselves, helping you to spot minor problems before they snowball into major issues that could cut down the amount of power they are capable of producing going forward.

Clean and inspect your panels every six months (or even better, every three months), and you won’t have anything to worry about!

How Solar Panel Technology Works

Believe it or not, the technology that makes it possible for solar cells to turn the sun’s energy into usable power (lowering your electricity bill along the way) is relatively simple and straightforward.

Modern solar panels are designed to allow particles of light – called photons – to shed electrons from individual atoms, generating electricity along the way.

All of the tiny solar cells can produce this effect and work in unison. Solar cells can produce valuable electricity in pretty significant quantities.

The trick, though, is moving that energy from the solar cells themselves through the rest of the panel and into your homes electricity infrastructure. How much energy is converted from sunlight and how much energy is captured and used is often wildly different.

Even the most efficient solar panels on the market today create more energy than they can never reliably capture, funnel, and transmit through to your home.

As a result, the per watt difference between energy created and energy used is significant, though major innovations in solar power are improving this ratio all the time.

The amount of energy that your solar panels can create will largely depend on time, the amount of sunlight the system receives regularly and the system size, the type of panels used, and a whole host of other factors.

Newer solar cells (solar thermal and concentrated solar power systems) take a different approach to capture sunlight’s power and turn it into usable energy.

These technologies are relatively brand-new, though, and there haven’t been enough breakthroughs from a national renewable energy laboratory (just yet) to make them viable for residential use.

Even still, there’s never been quite as exciting a time to be getting into the world of solar as right now.

The technology is improving on a day-to-day basis. More people than ever before are going solar. The built panels are less expensive (dramatically so with tax credits and state incentives) than ever.

Now’s the time to jump on board!

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

As we just mentioned a moment ago, the price for going solar is more affordable today than any other time in human history – not just because the technology itself for solar (especially the panels) solutions have become more affordable, but because of the great tax credit and tax breaks available as well.

On average, it’s going to cost about $12,000 for Americans to outfit their home and install solar.

This is after federal tax credit rebates, state incentives, and even financial incentives from local utility companies as well. Current federal tax credits for solar panels are good for about 26% of the entire system cost (though this incentive drops to 22% in 2023).

Local incentives can vary wildly (no surprise there), but you may be surprised to learn just how much you’re able to save with local tax benefits when you decide to upgrade your energy platform with solar panels.

Of course, solar panels don’t have to cost $12,000 – they can be even more affordable than that (or considerably more expensive, too).

Information from the Solar Energy Industries Association shows that it’s possible to get your hands on quality solar panels for as little as $5000.

You’ll be sacrificing some power, some efficiencies and may pay a little bit more for your standard electricity rates even with power generated by solar this way. But you’ll be able to save a mountain of money upfront, too.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Energy Information Administration reports that some high-end (called Tier 1) solar panels and solar home installations can run homeowners $40,000 or more.

That’s when you really start to get into more advanced PV system installations and modern solar tech (including solar thermal and concentrated solar power platforms). At that point, though, it’s worth looking into solar leases – some of which may be available from a local utility company –to help bring this upfront price down at least a little bit.

Why is the Cost of Solar Power Decreasing?

Homeowners using solar panels to power their homes – or at least supplement their power needs from a local power company – have seen a significant drop in price over the last decade.

In 2009, solar power came in around eight dollars per watt (on average). By the year 2019, though, that price had dropped down to $2.75 p/watt.

Solar power system owners have overlooked how easy it is to save money on electricity rates by making the switch to this technology either.

But it’s not just the overall cost of power from solar that has dropped over the last decade.

Improvements to how solar panels are made have brought their cost down significantly, too. In 1980, the cost of solar panels was close to $10 per watt to produce. By 2010, though, that price had dropped to just two dollars per watt– an 80% reduction over 30 years.

Between 2015 and 2020, the cost for producing solar panels dropped even more than that, though – from about $0.70/watt to $0.20/watt (representing a nearly 70% decrease over just five years).

Year after year, solar panels are becoming more affordable, efficient, and reliable.

New power purchase agreement documents show just how much money can be saved thanks to these innovations.

Combine that with dropping prices for solar inverters and all the other components necessary for solar power installations; it won’t be long until this advanced renewable technology is within reach of anyone and everyone that wants to take advantage of it.

How to Hire the Best Solar Panel Installers

Hiring the right people to install your solar panel system is a massive piece of the puzzle.

Solar panel installation is not something that just anyone and everyone can tackle.

There’s a lot that goes into building a solar setup.

The right type of solar panels has to be chosen. The suitable inverters and battery systems need to be leveraged, but they have to be positioned correctly on the property – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Finding the right experts to handle your solar installation needs is critical. Here’s a couple of things you’ll want to keep in mind.

For starters, critically important that you choose installers that have a tremendous amount of experience with the solar panels you are looking to have installed in the first place.

We’re not just talking about experience installing any old solar panels, either. We mean the exact kind of panels you’re looking to put on your property.

At least two years of hands-on in the field experience installing and setting up these panels will make a world of difference compared to generalists in the solar panel’s world.

Solar panel installers

Secondly, you must make sure the installers handling your solar panels are fully licensed, fully insured, and certified to do this kind of install, too.

It may or may not be vital for you to work with installers with a C-10 speciality installers license, but it’ll give you a lot of peace of mind and a lot of extra security.

Expert installers should also offer competitive prices on all the solar panels that they provide. They should be able to work with you to find options that fit your budget and your needs without you having to break your bank account into tiny little pieces.

The reputation that installers have should be sterling silver across the board. Ask for reviews, testimonials, and case studies – but also as for the contact information from people that have had the company you’re considering installing their solar panels so that you can speak to them directly.

You won’t get that “inside information” anywhere else.

Most solar panels worth purchasing will include a manufacturer warranty, but you want to be sure that the installers you have hired offer a warranty on their work as well. The chances are pretty good that a company that doesn’t warranty their work is a company you can trust with this kind of project – it’s a company you should avoid at all costs.

Finally, it’s not a bad idea to look for solar panels installers that handle so much more than just the solar panels set up.

Look for installers who are experts with this technology, experts who can improve the efficiency of your renewable home energy system, and experts who can help maximize this long-term investment in your property and energy needs.

FAQs

How many solar panels are needed to run a house?

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer to how many solar panels are needed to power a home, if only because home sizes and energy needs are so unique. That being said, the Energy Sage organization says that a house of average size will need between 20 and 25 solar panels to cover all of its energy needs.

How long will the solar power system last?

It’s not at all unusual for today’s solar electricity systems to last for 25 years or longer – sometimes significantly longer with proper maintenance and upkeep.

When will solar panels “pay for themselves”?

As a general rule of thumb, it takes (on average) between 5 and 10 years for solar power systems to “pay for themselves”.

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