You’re here because you probably know that installing solar panels in your home can save on your energy bill. You are correct. Although like any major project you need to thoroughly research before deciding if solar power is right for you.
What is Solar Power and How is it Generated?
Solar power technology emanates from the idea that the sun’s light energy can be trapped and harnessed as electrical energy via a combination of special panels, batteries and a DC to AC inverter.
In such a project, solar panels take the central axle on which the wheels of this green technology run. They form the primary transducers that convert the light energy into useful electrical power. After inversion of this power to AC, it can be supplied throughout a building or home via a suitable electrical installation just like the standard grid supply.
How Solar Panels Work
As mentioned earlier, solar panels are primary powerhouses in the generation of this kind of green energy. The panels, which come in different sizes and specifications, convert the sun’s short-wave radiation to electrical energy.
A single panel contains millions of interconnected photovoltaic modules packed closely and protected by a transparent glass panel. The photovoltaic cells used in most solar panels today are basically miniature photoemissive materials (emits electrons when a ray of light of a given wavelength shines on them). Since they are interconnected, the electrons dissipated by the sunlight pool to form a larger stream now referred as an electrical current.
The current generated, which typically flows as a result of the potential difference between two terminals, constitutes the bulk of the electrical energy harnessed. The power produced can be used directly or first taken through a unit of batteries and inverters for a more consistent supply.
So in a nutshell, the array of photovoltaic modules packed in the solar panel traps the light and converts it to electricity.
Where Can I Buy Solar Panels?
Most people may not know this, but solar panels and the solar power technology has been with us since the 1950s.
It was when they were majorly used to power extra-terrestrial installations (e.g., the Sputnik 1 and US Explorer 1). Back then, the panels were only a reserve for costly scientific explorations, and they were also hardly affordable.
Fortunately as a consequence of the advancement of technology, the cost of solar panels has decreased tremendously and are now readily available in most hardware and roofing stores all over the world.
Even better, you can order yours online from reputable dealers or even big box stores like Home Depot.
What Do I Need to Know Before Buying Solar Panels?
Solar panels are available today in a broad range of specifications.
The specs are mainly based on the efficiency tests of the panel and the construction material. Even though solar panels with higher efficiency are desirable, you may want to avoid buying anything with a more than a 20% efficiency rate. Such panels are known to have a shorter life and are equally more expensive.
If you need solar panels for your home, then anything with a 5%-15% efficiency will comfortably fit your bill.
On the same note, make sure you inquire on warranty period issued for the panel you’re going to purchase. Insist on a panel with a manufacturer’s warranty of more than 20 years. Usually, such panels are the most durable ones.
How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?
The number of solar panels you might need for your home is directly tied to your average monthly power consumption. Your monthly consumption is simply the amount your home utilizes on an average day then multiplied by 30 or 31 (days).
An energy meter could come in handy for more accurate representation. In case you do not have an energy meter, you can still use your past electric bills as a worthy estimate. To be safe, you might want to use the highest usage ever recorded on your monthly bills, just to leave room for a deviation allowance.
The other factor to put into consideration is the amount of consumption you’re looking to cover using the solar panels installation. You will need more panels for a 100% grid take-over than you would for a sizable occasional backup power plan. Again, if you want to live completely off the utility grid you will have to invest in a more sophisticated DC to AC power inverter unit.
Lastly, the average number of peak sunshine hours per day in your area should also be factored in when calculating the ideal number of panels required. Homes in the tropics might use fewer panels than those in temperate and polar latitudes.
For a quick estimate, let’s assume you live in Miami, FL ( where the average number of peak sunshine hours is 4.5 per day) and you have a monthly power consumption of 100KwHr as reflected in one of your recent energy bills. In this case, if you need to generate 100% of home’s power consumption using solar panels you might require four solar panels rated at 200Watts each. This estimation is based on the fact that a simple mathematical calculation reveals that such a homeowner utilizes an average of 760 watts per day.
In short, all the three factors have to be considered before you decide how many panels you’re going to purchase.
How Long Does it Take to Install Solar Panels?
This is influenced by the amount of energy you want to produce.
For example, If you go completely off the grid and adopt a solar power project for your home, then your installation is likely to be more complex than if you were looking at a backup or partial power plan. Additionally, it depends on whether you want to do-it-yourself (DIY) or planning on hiring an installation contractor.
Considering all these factors, with the help of an experienced electrical contractor, the project could take anywhere between 5 days and two weeks to complete ( depending on its scale and the manpower available).
That said, it may take a month of fine-tuning & minor tweaks before a fully fledged solar-panel power project can comfortably generate 100% of the power consumed by a large-sized residence.