What is solar energy?

Solar energy takes advantage of the sun’s rays to generate heat or electricity. It is an infinitely renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner. Can’t beat the sun for being oh-so-cool!

We’ve known light could be turned into electricity since 1839 when French physicist, A. E. Becquerel, discovered the photovoltaic effect. It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that the first solar cells were available commercially, when Bell Labs produced them for use in outer space. In the decades since, improvements in solar technology have been tremendous, as have drops in solar power cost. Since 1977, the price of solar panels has dropped approximately 100 times over, and solar power is now cheaper than power from the grid for billions of people.

How do solar photovoltaic cells work?

In layperson terms, photovoltaic cells are comprised of a semiconductor material such as silicon. Added to the silicon are the elements phosphorous and boron which create conductivity within the cell and activate the movement of electrons. The electrons move across the cell when activated by the sunlight’s energy into the electrical circuit hooked up to the solar panel.

What is the difference between solar panels versus building integrated photovoltaic products?

Solar panels are flat panels of photovoltaic arrays mounted on a roof or a pole to capture the sun’s rays.  Building integrated photovoltaic materials are PV arrays that are integrated into the building material itself, primarily windows, roof tiles, or walls. Solar panels work well for retrofits or remodels while BIPV are appropriate for new construction or a major renovation.

How much will I really save on my utility bills from a home electric solar power system?

Of course this is a relative question. It depends, in part, on how much electricity you use and how efficient the appliances are that you operate. That said expect to generate excess electricity in the summer (when days are long) which can potentially offset the energy you use from the grid in the winter. A combination of energy efficient appliances and light bulbs can help reduce your homes energy bill by over two-thirds.

What’s the difference between solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems?

While both types of solar systems capture energy from the sun, solar photovoltaic systems use photovoltaic panels to produce electricity. Solar hot water, or thermal, systems capture sunlight to heat water for domestic use, to heat a swimming pool, or for a radiant heating system.

What are solar hot water systems?

Solar hot water systems, broadly termed solar thermal systems, use the sun’s energy to heat water. Solar hot water systems can be used to heat a hot water tank or to warm a home’s radiant heating system. Swimming pools and hot tubs use a modified solar hot water system for heating water.

How much maintenance do solar energy panels require?

Solar photovoltaic panels require little maintenance – no need to wash or dust. It is, however, important to place panels where they will remain clear of shade and debris. Thus you will have to wipe them off if too much snow or leaves fall on them.

Solar hot water collection arrays don’t need much attention either. It does help to periodically use a window wash brush, biodegradable soap, and water to clean the tubes.

What if I’m the first person I know to install a photovoltaic system on my home?

First off, congratulations! Secondly, there are plenty of resources out there. Most solar electric building standards are based on the National Electric Code (NEC) Article 690. If you happen to be one of the first in your area to install a solar PV system, you can work with our technical team and local electricians to successfully install your photovoltaic system. NEC Article 690 spells out the requirements for designing a safe, reliable.

When should I seek a solar professional?

Although solar energy systems work in parallel with conventional residential electrical and plumbing systems, there are quirks in the process well suited to seeking out professionals who specialize in solar power installation. Solar installation professionals can help you determine the type and size of system most suited for your needs.

What should I ask a solar professional installer?

Solar professional installers can take the guess work out of installing a solar power system. Whether you are considering solar photovoltaic, solar hot water, or solar heat for your pool, a solar pro can help you determine the type and size of system that will work best and guide you through the process.

Why is it important to get multiple bids?

As with any major purchase, it’s helpful to compare costs and information. Seeking information from multiple professionals can provide constructive advice, set realistic expectations, and help you fine-tune the design that will work best for your application.

Do I need battery backup for my solar panels?

Probably not – a backup battery bank can add as much as 25% in cost to a residential solar PV system. It’s not necessarily more efficient either – a same sized solar array will yield about 7–10% less energy if it’s battery-tied than its grid-tied counterpart.

Though you will remain tethered to your local utilities’ grid, you will not have to worry about not generating enough power. You also gain the advantage of offsetting rising utility costs. Most solar photovoltaic experts do not recommend adding a backup battery system unless there is concern about a long utility outage or the residence is in a remote location.

How much space do I need for a solar photovoltaic system?

In bright sunlight, a square foot of a conventional photovoltaic panel will yield 10 watts of power. That’s a helpful rule of thumb for calculating a rough estimate of how much area you might need. For example, a 1000 watt system may need 100 – 200 square feet of area, depending on the type of PV module used.

How much shading is too much for solar photovoltaic panels?

Unfortunately shading a photovoltaic system dramatically decreases its output. Just shading the bottom row of wafers alone amounts to an 80% reduction in efficiency. So above all, don’t shade your array!

How do I know if solar panels will work on my home?

Take a look at the position of your home on its lot – and particularly your roof. Ask the following questions:

  1. Is there good southern exposure? Orienting solar panels to the south maximizes the effectiveness of energy collection.
  2. Is the exposure free of trees or buildings that could shade the panels or drop debris on them? Shading photovoltaic panels dramatically reduces their effectiveness.
  3. What is the pitch of your roof? Most roofs, from flat to 60-degrees can accommodate photovoltaic panels.

Do I need to have south facing exposure to have a solar energy system?

Although southern exposure increases the effectiveness of a residential solar power system, your home may still work for solar power without having south facing exposure. Seek advice from a professional solar designer or installer to ensure success.