How to Choose the Best Solar Panels For You
The benefits of solar energy are attracting more and more customers each year. According to Fortune.com “there are now over 20 gigawatts of solar panels operating in the U.S., which can power 4.6 million U.S. homes. So far this year, 40% of all the new electricity-generating capacity came from solar.” Solar energy is renewable, sustainable and it can actually save you money. But what should you look out for when choosing solar energy?
Over 90% of solar panels are made from a type of silicon. The highest efficiency rates are found with monocrystalline solar panels, which are made of the highest grade silicon. They are space efficient, because they require the least amount of panel space, and can produce up to four times the amount of electricity when compared with thin-film solar panels. While they are the best at efficiency and power, they are also the most expensive. They are also known to break down at times completely if the solar panel becomes covered by shade, dirt or snow. This problem can be rectified somewhat by ensuring that your monocrystalline panels come with a micro-inverter rather than a central string inverter. This will ensure that only one panel at a time is affected in the case of a problem.
In comparison, Polycrystalline panels cost less and involve less waste when they are being made. If you have a large space on your roof which you can use, this can make up for the difference in efficiency between the types of panel. It is also important to note that not every monocrystalline panel will do better than its polycrystalline alternative. There are many factors which include the type of roof, weather conditions and space.
Thin-film solar panels are more aesthetically pleasing, can be made flexible, and are best for mass production. As well as this, variations in temperature due to shading or hot days have less impact on their performance. They do, however, require a lot of space, and come with a shorter warranty as they degrade in less time. If you’re looking for a particular type of panel, or want to compare the stats of a few different kinds, a company like Wholesale Solar can help you with your research, and offers flash sales and bulk discounts, too.
Installation and Monitoring
Once you’ve chosen the right solar panels and equipment, you will want to make sure that as much of the installation and monitoring is taken care of for you. Most companies offer a site inspection before they draw up plans for your energy system. Companies such as Sunrun will get all the permissions and planning done for you, and give you a timeline of when you can expect installation to begin. The actual installation itself shouldn’t take more than a few days, and many companies will contact your utility service for you as well, which means all you need to do is turn the system on. If you’re worried about a cookie cutter approach to your panels and installation, try Baker Electric Solar or Milestone Solar, who create custom designed bespoke energy systems for each customer.
After the panels are installed, you want to be sure you can see how much power they are generating, for efficiency as well as savings. The top solar panel companies will keep track of this for you long-term, and offer you a way to keep on top of the facts and figures as well. Solar City gives you your own personalized energy consultant, so you are always talking to someone who knows you and your system, while Sunpower is a great choice if you want your own monitoring – they allow you to keep track via mobile app in real time.
Simply put, how efficient a solar panel is translates to how good it is at creating usable energy from the sun's power. The efficiency of your system will depend on the materials and type of panels you choose. The majority of good quality panels come in at a 15% efficiency level, therefore, anything much lower than 13%/14% suggests the quality of the panels is lacking. Having said that, the highest recorded efficiency is 22.04% for the latest, most expensive model on the market, so anywhere from 15%-20% is a good efficiency level. Sullivan Solar is a competitive choice with 21.5% efficiency on their panels.
Factors which affect your panel efficiency include solar panel pitch and orientation, temperature, shade and soiling. Your panel should face directly south at around a 35 degree angle. If possible, you can adjust your solar panels twice a year, to catch the winter sun as well as the higher summer sun. Heat can reduce your output by up to 25%. If you live in an area with extreme temperature, SolarWorld offers climate and temperature resistance panels which may suit your location, or a mounting system may help, which lifts your panels a few inches off the roof, allowing air to circulate freely.
Costs and Savings
Here’s where it gets tricky, as costings and savings can differ from state to state. Federal tax credits can be as much as 30%, although these may be lowering to 10% from 2017 as solar becomes more popular. There are also incentive programs which vary from state to state. You can usually choose to lease or buy solar panels, depending on the kind of commitment you want to make, and your financial situation. The largest initial cost would be from buying, and this can range from $15,000 to $40,000 for good quality panels and installation. After incentives, the following graph from EnergyInformative shows the amount of time estimated to make back this money and then the savings over time.
You should also consider that the US Dept of Energy states that most solar panels pay for themselves within 5 years, especially when you consider that a solar electric system raises the property value by $20 for every $1 saved on utility bills in a year period. If you save $800, you have raised your property value by $16,000. If the costs still sound daunting, try a company like Sunrun, who offer multiple ways to buy or lease with their BrightSave and BrightAdvantage plans.
Buying solar panels is a commitment, and you need to know that whatever questions you have will be answered, both before purchase and after. As well as great monitoring options, you need a customer service team who have the answers and are available to give them. Look for 24/7 customer support, including live chat. A great extra from SolarCity is a personalized energy consultant, so that you’re always dealing with the same member of staff for any questions or queries from start to finish. Is the customer support in-house or outsourced? Smaller companies may have higher costs or longer wait times for installation, but can make up for it with quality personalized support from their staff. At Milestone Solar for example, the CEO has been known to come install your panels himself!
Take your time and do your research on equipment, installation, efficiency and costings before you make a commitment, and you will enjoy the benefits of solar energy long-term.
Want to check out the top names in solar energy side by side? Try our feature comparison chart to see all the pros and cons at a glance.