The answer to the question – Do I need solar panels? – is simple, yes you do! In every aspects of our lives technology is advancing almost daily and we all try to keep up with it and we buy new cell phones, new cars, new appliances, new TV’s, new tablets and the list goes forever. Unfortunately, when we speak about technology of getting your power and hot water then most of us still use almost the same technology like in the early 20th century. Why is that? The technology is here, it’s affordable, it doesn’t pollute, it saves you money and it can even generate income if your roof is big enough. Most of countries around the world give financial support for installing solar panels and you can save money from the start. So what are you waiting for? If you are a homeowner then installing solar panels on your roof is in your best interest and you will see from the start that your bills will be cut in half.
Types of solar panels
First distinction between solar panels are on solar hot water panels and solar photovoltaic (PV) modules. The hot water panels are used, as the name refers, for heating the water in houses and PV module creates electricity from the sun. Funny as it is, the name “solar panel” is mostly associated with the PV module and rarely with hot water panels, so when people are talking about solar panels they mean on panels for producing electricity. If you are asked yourself “Do I need solar panels for hot water also?” The answer is, yes you do! Solar hot water panels are extremely efficient in heating the water for usage in households and, most importantly, in heating water for your heating system. If you are wondering how they perform in the winter, the answer is that they collect enough energy from the sun that you can turn off your water heaters entirely and even heat your entire home through a heating system based on solar hot water panels.
Second distinction is based on the type of material from which solar panels are produced. Most solar modules are currently produced from solar cells made of polycrystalline and monocrystalline silicon. Monocrystalline silicon cell offers high efficiency and good heat tolerance characteristics in a small footprint but it is also the most expensive type. Polycrystalline (or multi-crystalline) silicon cell based solar panels are now the most popular choice in residential installs. Recent improvements in polycrystalline panel technology have resulted in the development of modules equal to or better than many monocrystalline brands in terms of size, efficiency and heat tolerance. Amorphous (thin-film or hybrid) silicon panels are definitely a cut above crystalline ones in terms of efficiency, which means that they generate a larger power from a smaller area. However, they are much more expensive in comparision to crystalline panels and are really not worthwhile, unless you have very limited roof space. This distiction is for educational purposes only because you buy panels depending on how much power they produce, how much do they cost and how long is the warranty period, the type of material doesn’t matter that much.
When we speak about solar systems there are two types of systems, the gridtie system and offgrid systems. The gridtie system is connected with your utility power and you even can sell the surplus power to your supplier. The offgrid systems are not connected to the power grid and that means that you have a totally energy independent house or you just installed a system for one part of the house and the rest is connected to the grid.
Rules and regulations
In most residential areas there are no limitations for installing solar panels but it doesn’t harm to check it out before you decide to install panels on your roof. If you are planning a gridtie system then you have to get the permission, not to put solar panels on the roof but to get a permit to connect to the grid. The permit depends on whether you are planning to sell your electricity surplus to the provider or not. If you are planning to sell your energy than there is some limitations, depending on the country, because it depends on how much power the grid can handle and how much power will provider buy from you. If you are not planning to sell your energy than a permit to connect to the grid is a formality and it simply regulates your contract with the provider and the cost of the connection.
It is true, in most countries in the world you can get state funds for implementing renewable energy systems and primarily solar panels system. There are two main models of funding, funding the percentage of total investment up to the certain amount and funding the price of electricity which you sell to the provider. Normally, we can’t specify terms in every country and you have to investigate that part yourself. If you are U.S. resident than you can check funding opportunities with the Environmental protection agency and if you are U.K. resident check the Energy saving trust.
Another interesting thing is that you have the opportunity to install solar panels for free! If you are wondering why everybody doesn’t take that option in the start, there is a catch. There are companies which lease your roof and they mount their own solar system and you get a fixed monthly fee or fixed amount of electricity every month. That is the most simple option by all means but this is more a lease contract rather then converting to a renewable energy source because you don’t get enough money to pay your electricity bill or you don’t get enough power to fulfill your house needs.
You usually need a roof that faces roughly within 45 degrees of south, with no shade from other buildings or trees. While some early or late shading is okay, the roof should be unshaded between 10am and 4pm. If your roof doesn’t fit this criteria, you may not be able to get maximum payments with solar panels but that doesn’t mean that the investment will not pay off itself in few years, it just mean that it would take a little longer than on a perfectly situated roof.
Other thing to keep in mind is the size of the roof. First of all we must say that you can put solar panels on every roof, it doesn’t matter how small it is. The size of the roof matters for the total amount of produced power. If you have a bigger roof than you can produce more power than you need and sell it to the provider, and if you have a smaller roof then you can produce enough power just for your household. Calculating the amount of energy produced per roof can be a complicated task but we advise you to use PVWatts calculator with which you can easily calculate the amount of power you will get from your solar panels anywhere in the world.
Can I install solar panels myself?
If you don’t have a fear of heights and you don’t mind a little climbing on the roof then you can install solar panels yourself. You need to carefully follow the instruction manual and you will need to be careful when drilling holes on the roof for securing the panels. Always use screws with protective caps to completely seal the hole on the roof if the screws aren’t supplied with the kit you bought. Connecting the panels is an easy task because the have quick-connect jacks and you can link them together without any problem. Be advised that mounting panels on the roof is a two men job and that you have to be properly secured against falling. Connecting the panels with inverter and main controller is an easy task as well.
When you completed the mounting and connecting you have to connect the solar panel system to the grid. That part you can not do yourself and you need a licensed technician from the provider to do that part. If you decided for the off grid system than you can complete the installation yourself and you don’t need any further permits.
Installing the solar hot water panels is an even easier task because it doesn’t involve any knowledge about electricity. It does need a little plumbing knowledge when you connect the system to the plumbing and heating system in your house.
How much does it cost?
That is a tricky question because it depends on numerous factors but the main thing is that it is much cheaper than in the years when solar panels where something new. First thing that determines the price is the amount of energy you want to produce. If you want a 1kW system to lower your electricity bill than it is an investment of around 2000$. If you want a 5kW system to fulfill all your needs than it is a roughly investment between 8000$ and 10000$. If you want a 10kW system to be able to sell the surplus energy that is an investment of roughly 20000$. Keep in mind that those are retail prices without any funding from the government. Now it comes the good part. You can get funding in around 50% of your investment and you can get a tax refund in around 15% of the investment. Now take a look at the prices again and lower it by 65% and you will se that buying a solar panel system is an investment which pays itself in few years time.
There is a huge array of solar panels manufacturers and we don’t want to highlight any of them because there is a very little difference in quality between them. If you are buying only solar panels than the main parameter is a price per Watt which ranges between 0,88$ and 1,5$ depending of manufacturer and dealer. If you are buying a complete kit, which is advised for home installation, then the price ranges between 1,4$ and 2,5$ per Watt. If you are a homeowner who wants to install solar panels on your roof then we strongly advise you to buy a ready solar system kit because it is a cheaper version. Ready solar systems are easily mounted and connected by every DIY homeowner and if you buy components separately you will have to pay somebody to connect and install them and we heard in many cases that people bought components that are not compatible to each other.
If you read the article thoroughly you will end up questioning yourself about bad sides of solar panels but really there are none! For those who want to know more about renewable energy we advise you to check out our article about Renewable energy & sustainable design book. If you want a quick review of solar panels benefits then with solar panels you will:
- Cut your electricity bills – sunlight is free, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation, your electricity costs will be reduced or completely gone.
- Get paid for the electricity you generate – most countries have feed-in-tarrifs and they pay you for the electricity you generate, even if you use it.
- Sell electricity back to the grid – if your system is producing more electricity than you need, you can sell the surplus back to the grid.
- Cut your carbon footprint – solar electricity is green renewable energy and doesn’t release any harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants. A typical home solar PV system could save over a tonne of carbon dioxide per year – that’s more than 30 tonnes over its lifetime.
With all being said we think that is our duty to help the environment and install solar panel systems on our homes and the best thing is that it also helps our budgets! And once again, we advise you to install solar hot water panels also, it is a great way to have almost free heating for your home.