Zoomed in Solar Panels with Sun Reflecting on Them

Your Best Guide to Solar Panels

As the powering force behind solar energy, solar panels are an intricate and important element to this renewable energy source. Understanding how solar panels work and generate energy it’s essential to harnessing this amazing clean source of energy for yourself, so it’s imperative to be educated.

Solar panels come in many different types, with varying functions, and for a range of different uses. Whether you want to have your whole home installed with solar panels to create a renewable and cheap source of power or just use portable panels to take on your camping trip, there’s a way to harness this amazing technology for yourself.

With an increasing rate of greenhouse gas emissions and a larger and more dangerous carbon footprint being left on this earth, it’s never been more important to look at new sources of energy that won’t damage the environment. Not only is using solar panels great for our planet, but they can save your household thousands of dollars over the years.

Home With Multiple Solar Panels on a Roof

The installation and planning process of solar panels can be a large job, as there are many factors to consider. You may choose to have a professional installation of panels on your rooftop or use something homemade to harness just a little of the sun’s energy. Either way you use it, though, it has great benefits for everyone involved.

What Are Solar Panels?

Simply put, a solar panel is a device that converts light into electricity. These panels are situated outdoors so that can get enough of the sun’s natural light which it then turns into power. A solar panel is made up from solar cells which spread over a large space in order to collect more light.

People generally place solar panels on their rooftop so that they can absorb the sunlight, and these systems then convert that into electricity which can be used by the home. This gives homeowners a cheaper rate on their utility bills, a clean and renewable energy source, and sometimes even free electricity altogether.

Beautiful House with Roof Covered by Solar Panels

But, what are solar panels made of? There are a few different types of solar panels, each with their own unique construction and purpose. To determine which one is right for your household, you need to consider your own energy usage first.

  • Monocrystalline - These are the most common solar panels found on a home, and they’re black in color. They’re similar to muti-crystalline panels which are blue but thought to have better efficiency, making them a popular choice. The solar cells in these panels are generally made from silicone and a range of other components.
  • Interdigitated back contact solar cells (IBC) - IBC are also known as rear-contact cells as they have most or all of their contacts on the rear of the cell. This means they’re more efficient than standard panels because they’re exposed to less shading than those on the front.
  • Thin film - The thin film cells aren’t commonly found on rooftops but are often used for smaller devices such as solar garden lamps. Using a thin layer of PV material situated on a glass plate, this film isn’t as efficient in producing energy but it is still being improved.

How do Solar Panels Work?

There are certain materials which make electricity when light falls on them, and this effect is what give solar panels their ability to make energy. This process is referred to as the photovoltaic (PV) effect and is a common term used with solar panels.

Solar Panel Solar Cells Zoomed

Solar panels are the first point of contact for the sunlight and they’re made of tiny cells all sandwiched together. Once the sunlight hits these panels it can then be converted, using an inverter system, into energy that will power your home.

So, how does solar energy work as a cost saving measure for your home? As solar panels often make too much electricity to power a home, the excess energy can be fed into the electricity grid which most energy providers will pay you a tariff for. Otherwise, some homes may use a battery storage system to store the power so they can use it for themselves at a later time.

While modern solar panels will work facing in most directions, the most optimal direction is south (in the Northern Hemisphere) so that they can be pointed directly at the sun. Solar panels need to be placed in an area free from shade or obstructions so they can collect the most sunlight possible to power your home. Other factors such as weather can also impact their effectiveness, so they can sometimes be unreliable.

Efficiency of Solar Panels

When discussing solar panels, it’s common to rate them in terms of their efficiency. Put simply, a solar panel’s efficiency is measured by their ability to output electricity compared to the surface area. The electricity is always measured in watts, and the higher the efficiency of the panels the more wattage it’s going to get for your home or device.

Sun Shining on Rooftop Solar Panels

When some homes don’t have a lot of space to work with on their roof, they’ll need to purchase solar panels that have a higher efficiency rating so you can get the same amount of energy output as someone with more area.

Homes that have a lot of roof space, though, can generally purchase and install a larger amount of less efficient solar panels that will collectively achieve the same amount. This works out to be a lot cheaper than the more efficient panels and is also more cost effective to install.

Although solar panels are designed to sit on a roof to collect the most sun possible, being in direct sunlight can make them less efficient as they heat up. Depending on where you live and the usual climate, you’ll need to ensure you’ve chosen a temperature tolerance that will suit your surroundings and have them installed professionally for the best output.

The Different Sizes of Solar Panels

Before considering solar panels for your home and what size panels you’ll need, you have to calculate your household’s specific energy needs. Once you know what your regular energy usage is and determine which areas you may need to cut down on, you can then consider then size.

Different Sizes of Solar Panels

Solar panel size will also be determined by how much space you have on your roof, so as discussed earlier you’ll need to purchase the more expensive but efficient panels if you only have a small area to work with.

Even if you can’t afford to purchase a lot of panels, anything can help lower your electricity bill and reduce your carbon footprint. Solar modules are usually sold in systems according to their wattages, so once you have an idea of your household’s energy use it will be easier to see what you need.

Not every solar panel is created equally, and they’ll have varying dimensions and qualities. The most common size panel used for household installation is about 65 by 39 inches, but there’s no hard and fast rule about this. Speak with your installer directly about the size of their panels to see what will fit best with your home.

The Benefits of Using Solar Energy

Solar panels are the force which creates this amazing source of renewable energy, and while the technology is still relatively young in American households there is already a plethora of benefits available to the homeowner and environment.

Solar Panel in a Backyard Facing Sun

And here are the benefits:​

  • Saves money - While there’s no single answer for how much a household can save using solar, there are a number of ways that solar panels can make you money. They add value to your home, reduce utility bills, and offer a range of financial incentives from the government too, so the return on investment is certainly worth it.
  • Reduces your carbon footprint - Americans are known for having one of the largest carbon footprints of any other country, and studies have even found that those with the lowest energy output are still producing more than double that of the recommended global amount. Any way that we can reduce our energy use is going to be helpful to the environment, and solar is a great way to do this.
  • Provides energy reliability - Although each day can offer something different with the weather and cloud coverage, knowing that the sun will rise and set each day is something we can almost guarantee. Solar provide a reliable and constant source of energy that we can use for years to come.
  • Silent and low maintenance - Using solar panels, whether at home or on a generator, is virtually silent as there are no moving parts to consider. In addition, once your panels are installed they’re virtually maintenance free so you don’t need to give them a second thought.
  • Gives you independence - Since the sun is free for everyone, there’s no way that this energy source can be taken from you. Having solar panels at work for your household gives you independence from the energy supplier and can help not only individuals but entire countries when using this free source of electricity.
  • Portability - Solar panel gadgets such as solar backpacks and solar generators can be taken along anywhere, and are extremely easy to transport. This portability means you can have constant access to power from anywhere on earth, and in times when you might need it most.
Three Different Versions of Portable Solar Panels

How to install solar panels

Although it is possible to install solar panels on your home without a professional, it’s generally not recommended due to the complicated process and needs for wiring and other technical tasks. As the efficiency of these panels rely on how well they’re placed and where it isn’t something you want to take a risk with.

Before installing a solar panel system in your home, there are a few things to consider. This is where a professional opinion can be valuable, provided you’re working with a reputable and responsible installer.

  • Do you want to be connected to the local power grid?
  • Where will the system be located?
  • ​How much electricity does your home use?
  • ​How much sun reaches your rooftop?
  • ​What type of warranty is offered on the panels?
  • Are there any other measures needed to ensure the safety of your household?
Man Installing Solar Panel on a Roof

A professional installer can help answer all of these, and will size, install, and maintain your solar panels to ensure they get your home the best efficiency. A trustworthy solar panel installer will have years of experience behind them and a solid reputation, as well as being fully licensed and able to offer you a warranty on the work and product they provide.

How to Build a Solar Panel

While they may not be as effective as commercially produced solar panels, it’s still possible to make your own at home and harness some of the sun’s natural energy for yourself. Try these simple steps to create your own solar panels.

  • Find cheap solar cells - You can generally find cheap cells online, so depending on how much power you want to achieve you’ll need to buy accordingly. For a fun experiment, though, don’t spend too much acquiring the cells.
  • Plan your solar system and link the cells - Using a wooden board, place your cells down and draw lines to show where they’ll separate. First, you’ll need to link the cells to each other by soldering the positive to the negative lead. Repeat until you’ve reached 12 volts as this is enough to start an inverter, and all you’ll need for now. The more cells you link the more power you’ll get, but don’t go overboard.
  • Stick the cells onto the board - Drill holes in the board for all of the wires in the cells, and then stick them down carefully. Make sure the connections between the wires allow them to run parallel with both a positive and negative lead.
  • Connect to batteries and inverter - Now that you’re done you can measure the voltage to see how strong it is. After doing this and short-circuiting the amperage you can now connect to batteries and an inverter.

You’re also able to purchase a solar panel kit that features all of the tools and supplies to build your own at home. These are ideal if you’re not mechanically savvy or aren’t sure where exactly to get the right equipment. While it may not power up as much as a rooftop panel, it’s certainly a fun way to experiment with renewable energy.

Using a Solar Panel Generator

To use solar energy outside of the home, you can now power up a generator thanks to the sun. A solar power generator uses portable solar panels to harness the sun’s energy from anywhere you go, making them ideal for camping or just as a backup power supply.

These portable solar panels have far more advantages than a traditional gas powered system and can often reach high levels of power to keep your campsite or RV running. Unlike traditional generators, they won’t emit dangerous carbon monoxide gasses or produce noise when they run, so they’re an ideal accompaniment to any relaxing camping trip.

Solar generators come in many different sizes, depending on how many watts you require. Before purchasing one, you should decide how many watts you plan on using each day to power enough of your electronics to live comfortably.

Enerplex Generatr 1200E Portable Generator in Use for Laptop

Once you arrive at the campsite, you can place the solar panels in sunlight and then the generator will convert this into energy to be stored in its internal battery. From there, you can plug in your lighting, appliances, and charge cell phones and laptops. This amazing advancement in generators means you can further reduce your carbon footprint and continue using green energy even when you’re not at home.

Other Uses For Solar Panels

In addition to solar generators, there are other ways that solar panels can be used to bring you free energy from the sun. If you’re not yet ready to run your entire house with a solar panel system you can try one of these fun gadgets and harness this amazing energy source for yourself.

  • Solar lights - Small lights with a solar panel attached can be used to replace your traditional lighting at home. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2015 the average American household used 10% of their energy costs on lights alone. Whether you want a garden light, flashlight, or desk lamp, there’s a solar solution to your problem.
  • Solar backpacks - A solar backpack is one of the easiest ways to supply yourself with enough energy to stay connected with the world. Solar backpacks use small solar panels on their rear that collect sunlight as you go about your day, and they’re ideal for students, hikers, and even emergency aid relief staff.
  • Solar chargers - A solar charger is a simple way to cut down on energy costs at home in a fun way. Solar chargers allow you to keep a battery powered up that you can then plug into with your smartphone, tablet, or other device and keep yourself charged up without using any electricity from an outlet.
  • Solar toys - To get your kids interested in renewable energy, there are some great solar gadgets available. Science kits, solar radios, cars, and robots are just a few ways that kids can let solar energy power their toys.
Woman Carrying Solar Powered Backpack

The Future of Solar Panels

As the technology and science behind solar energy continue to grow, so too do the future plans for this amazing source of renewable energy. The current focus tends to be on battery storage systems such as the Tesla Powerwall, which lets you keep your solar energy so that you can use it at a later stage and not have to rely on the local power grid.

There are talks about Tesla improving the aesthetics and functionality of these systems so that solar energy can become a more likely source of energy for the average American. With ideas about smart homes run solely on solar energy and your smart car being powered up in the garage each night using the sun’s free power hopefully not too far away, the future of solar panels is an exciting one.

Two Men Standing Infront of Teslas Powerwall

In 2015, reports showed that U.S solar power grew by 6.2 gigawatts from the previous year, made up of households, schools, businesses, and utilities beginning to harness this power for themselves. This meant over $18billion was invested in the renewable energy source, signaling a promising future for its place in American homes and a continued boom in the clean power supply.

As the cost of solar energy and installation goes down, the rate of homes which choose to switch to this renewable source of power should hopefully increase. Whether it’s with solar panels or some simple solar gadgets placed around the home, every little bit can improve our greenhouse gasses and save our households money in the long run.

Bring Solar Panels Into Your Life

With so many benefits to having a solar panel system at your home, there’s never been a better time to consider installation. Whether you’re dedicated to reducing your family’s carbon footprint or simply want to condense your household costs and energy bills, solar panels are one of the smartest ways to go.

Happy family standing near large solar panels

Although it may be tempting to build and install your own solar panel system, this is best left to the professionals. Considering a solar panel needs to be sized, positioned, and maintained just right to achieve the best efficiency, you should always work with a trusted professional to get the job done.

Solar energy is still a relatively new concept when you consider how long it’s been used as an alternative power source, and the future of it is exciting and unknown. With its numerous advantages over traditional energy supply for yourself and the environment, it makes sense to switch to this clean and reliable source of power today.

As the powering force behind solar energy, solar panels are an intricate and important element to this renewable energy source. Understanding how solar panels work and generate energy it’s essential to harnessing this amazing clean source of energy for yourself, so it’s imperative to be educated.

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