Solar Panels

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In the world of technology and environmental trends, green is the new black. Environmental buzzwords (and concepts) are gaining popularity among a growing group of demographics that includes people in businesses, nonprofits, and homes. Some people are becoming more environmentally conscious while others are realizing that they can actually save money through energy efficient products.

Decades ago, solar technology was expensive and relatively new. Now, solar panels are becoming popular and cost-effective energy-saving options for schools, government agencies, and households. New companies are emerging with cost-effective and practical technologies, and the federal government has been offering tax credits for green home improvements.

Alternative energy is a new trend that actually makes sense for all kinds of people, businesses, and organizations. Although the initial costs might be high, the technology pays for itself by cutting utility costs. Common estimates cite savings at around 30 to 50 percent. Tax and utility rebates can help offset initial setup costs.

How Solar Panels Work

The solar panels that generate power are called solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Other types of solar panels are used to power water heaters.

PV panels include networked photovoltaic cells that absorb light to convert into electrical energy. Together, the panels form a system that is customized to meet the energy needs of a residence, business, or organization.

The PV panels have multiple layers. The first layer protects the panel while the second and third layers use silicon, a semiconductor, to facilitate the movement and storage of electrons. It is this movement of electrons that generates the power required for electricity. New technologies allow solar panels to create power using less expensive semiconductors than silicon.

Dark Nights & Cloudy Days

When it is dark, solar panels are unable to convert light to energy, so people need to find ways to continuously power the building. Grid tied systems allow users to network their solar panels with other power-generating systems.

Some solar panels operate "off grid," meaning that they are not networked with other energy grids in the building. With off-grid systems, people can use batteries to store electricity and generate power when it is cloudy or dark.

Installation Tips

Off grid systems are beneficial because users can power their homes independently of utility and energy companies. Areas without power lines and dedicated utility providers that frequently lose power also benefit from solar panels since solar-equipped buildings have the autonomy to produce their own power.

Grid tied systems are beneficial because they include the potential for backup power if the solar panels are not producing enough energy. Users can save money and ensure that their electrical power is reliable, whereas users risk losing for an extended period of time with off grid systems.

In general, grid tied systems are less expensive than off grid systems in terms of setup and maintenance fees. Off grid systems require batteries and charge regulators that eventually need servicing and replacement.

The most convenient places for installing solar panels include rooftops and tops of buildings. Some people even design solar panels to stand upright using pole mounts, roof-ground mounts, and flush mounts. Solar panels can also be synched with RVs.

Installation & Panel Costs

The cost of installing a solar panel varies based on factors including geographic area, available tax credits and rebates, off-grid expenses, and building energy needs. When installing a grid tied system, the cost will vary based on how much of the total energy you'd like to designate as solar. On average, people spend tens of thousands of dollars on solar panel installation. Local services will probably give you a free installation quote, and you could probably negotiate your rates.

The panels themselves can cost anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. When you shop for a solar panel, you should take the time to find a product that matches your needs. A low quality or mismatched product could end up costing you thousands of dollars in setup fees.

New Homes

Because of costs, many people recommend installing solar panels when you construct your home. If you have a remodeling project or you are overseeing the construction of a building, you may want to consider solar panels, especially if you anticipate any alternative energy projects down the road.

Where to Buy

Solar panels are available at hardware stores and solar retailers nationwide. When buying new panels, consumers have the option to make direct purchases from manufacturers or to hire a company with an installation service.

In general, it is less expensive to purchase solar panels directly from manufacturers. If you choose this option, you will probably need to find your own installation service if you do not feel comfortable installing the panels yourself.

People find that it is more convenient to purchase solar panels from a retailer with an installation service since solar panels need to be configured to meet your building's unique energy needs. You may want solar panels to generate energy in whole or in part. Technicians and solar panel consultants can help you explore your options for a smooth transition.

If you are looking to save money, EBay, craigslist, and other popular online marketplaces have helped people connect to buy and sell high quality used panels.

Last Updated: March 21, 2013
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