Mounting solar panels on your roof is the most popular, but not necessarily the best option. Solar panels are made of light-sensitive silicon cells that convert sunlight into electricity. When mounted properly, they can generate more power for your home than you need to meet all of your needs.
A new study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that solar panel installation has tripled in recent years and now covers about one percent of U.S. rooftops nationwide.
Solar energy may be a renewable resource, but it’s also expensive and complicated to install and maintain. So before you buy those photovoltaic panels or hire an installer, here’s what you need to know.
The amount of sunlight you receive in
The amount of sunlight you receive in your location is the primary determining factor when you decide if your roof is a practical option for solar panel installation. If your home receives only two to five hours of direct, unobstructed sunlight per day (or six to eight hours with indirect/reflected light), then installing panels on your roof might not be the best choice.
The harsh summer heat can also contribute to a loss in energy efficiency and damage your panels. Roof pans can become too hot, which makes them less efficient and can even damage the panels.
Solar panels are an investment in the future of our planet
Solar panels are an investment in the future of our planet and, chances are, they’ll outlive you. But if you plan on moving before your panels expire – or the roof is slated for a
Solar panels are an investment in the future of our planet and, chances are, they’ll outlive you. But if you plan on moving before your panels expire – or the roof is slated for a renovation – who will take care of them? In some cases, the new owner may not get a permit to install more panels or can’t afford to buy out your warranty. If you go this route, it’s important that you fully understand what you’re getting into.
How to mount solar panels on your roof for maximum efficiency
Mounting solar panels on your roof is the most popular option for homeowners, but it’s not without its challenges. Before you decide if this is the best way to go, consider your climate and budget (installing new panels can cost tens of thousands of dollars).
If possible, choose a location that minimizes shade from trees; an eastern exposure with a slope of at least 30 degrees is best.
You’ll need to consider your climate, the size and type of solar panel, and your budget when deciding how to mount your solar panels. If you’re in an area where snowfall is common, then excess weight from piling snow on top of them can damage or even destroy panels.
What you need to know about solar panel installation
Solar panels are expensive, but they’re becoming more affordable for average homeowners. The average national cost of an installed 5-kilowatt photovoltaic system is around $16,000, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). However, there are several state and local incentives available that can help offset installation costs.
For homeowners interested in a solar panel installation, here’s a breakdown of what you need to know.
1. Research your options
The amount of energy required by the average U.S. household is equivalent to that produced by about 2,600 square feet of solar panels – which will produce an estimated 30 percent more energy each year than comparable non-solar panel homes, according to the SEIA.
2. Consider incentives
Before you purchase your solar panels, consider state and local tax credits (not available everywhere) or other rebate programs. Your utility provider may also offer energy conservation programs that will credit your account for any unused power produced by your solar-powered home during peak times.
3. Check your roof’s condition
Solar panels should be installed on a clean, dust-free and non-pitted surface to ensure they function properly. Be sure to repair any loose tiles, flashing or missing shingles before installation. This is also true for roofs that are too steep or have inadequate overhangs to accommodate the weight of the panels. A qualified contractor will know if your roof is up to the task or if it needs repair or replacement before installation.
4. Select the best location
To maximize solar energy, most homeowners install their panels on a south-facing roof with a pitch of at least 30 degrees so they can absorb the most direct sunlight throughout the day.
5. Choose the correct size
Your solar installation should produce enough energy to fully power your home; in some cases, however, excess energy can be stored or sold to energy companies. If you’re not ready for a full roof-mounted system, you can also mount them on poles near your home or have them mounted on an exterior wall.
The benefits of installing solar panels at home
Solar panels can be costly, but if you’re vigilant about making your monthly payments and keeping them in good working condition, you’ll begin to see a return on your investment within 10 years. If you don’t want to install solar panels on your roof, there are other options. You could choose pole-mounted solar panels or have them installed on the exterior wall of your home (exterior installations aren’t recommended in areas with heavy rainfall).
The benefits of using solar panels are many. Solar energy is clean, renewable and environmentally friendly. It reduces electricity costs by about 30 percent, which can provide you with thousands of dollars worth of savings over the years. Solar panels also increase the value of your home.
Depending on where you live, power outages can be a major inconvenience. A solar panel installation will put you back in control of your energy usage and ensure that you have a backup if the grid fails.
Why it’s important to take care of your solar panels with regular cleaning and maintenance
If your solar panels aren’t working properly, they won’t generate electricity and it will be like throwing money away. If you’re not getting the peak performance from your system, most likely it’s because of a dirty panel.
When collected debris is left on the surface of your panels for too long, dirt and dust build up and reduce the panel’s ability to produce electricity by approximately 50 percent. All you have to do is hose them off occasionally, or brush with a soft broom or rag on a regular basis.
A breakdown of the different types of solar panels
The type of panel you choose depends on the amount of energy your home needs. If you want to power up your entire house, opt for a full system that mounts flush with the roof or sidewalls.
If you just need backup solar energy for an appliance or two, choose an “off-grid” kit. Whichever panel type you select, be sure to purchase a high-quality panel with the highest wattage output.
1. Monocrystalline solar panels
Monocrystalline solar cells are made from semiconductor material like silicon, and offer the highest efficiency rates (15 to 17 percent) of all commercially available solar cell types. They come in black or blue frames and are generally the most expensive type of solar panel. They can be mounted on a roof, pole or rack and are good at withstanding shade and low-light conditions due to their wide angle of acceptance.
2. Polycrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline solar cells are made from several silicon crystals fused together and offer an efficiency rate of around 13 percent. They are good for partial-shade conditions and are usually mounted on a rack or pole.
3. Thin film solar cells
Thin-film solar cells are made from silicon, but the cell is so thin it allows light to pass through to another layer beneath it. This type of panel offers an efficiency rate of around 8 percent. It is good for partial-shade conditions and can be mounted on a roof, pole or rack.
The basics about installing your own system
If you’re interested in installing your own solar panels, keep in mind that there are several things to consider. A complete system will include an inverter (which changes DC power into AC power), batteries (which store the electricity for use when needed or directed back into your home’s electrical system) and wiring.
Most systems also include a controller, which keeps everything in your system from overcharging. Inverter systems will shut off automatically when batteries are fully charged, but you might need a controller for other types of solar panels.
You can install your own solar panels wherever they’ll get the most available sunlight throughout the day and be sure to choose a location with a strong structural support. Most solar panels need to be mounted at a 20 degree angle facing south. In colder climates, you might want to consider a roof overhang design for protection from snow or ice because there is a possibility of low-temperature damage if the panels freeze.
If your living space isn’t suitable for solar panel installation, there are many ways to make it work. If you have a pole in your yard, you can mount your solar panels on it and run wiring from the panel(s) to your home or battery bank. You could also choose a rack mount system for a garage wall or nearby structure. No matter which way you go, make sure to think about how much sun your location receives throughout the day.
It might be better to hire a professional. Although most people feel capable of installing their own solar panels, it is probably better to leave this project up to a professional. Installing an effective and safe system can be complicated and can lead to costly mistakes if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Different factors that determine solar panel efficiency
There are several physical factors that determine how much usable sunlight is harnessed by your solar panels. The intensity of sunlight at a particular location is measured in kilowatt hours per square meter (kWh/m) per day, and has everything to do with latitude, weather conditions, time of year, and even dust or humidity levels. It’s unlikely that you’ll achieve the listed kWh/m per day at your location, but you can get a general idea of how much available sunlight is in your area.
This information is useful when determining the size of your system and one important factor when it comes to optimal panel installation, whether it be on top of your roof or in your yard. Make sure your solar panels are facing the right direction, and that they have a strong support structure to withstand any wind or weather conditions.
For example, in Atlanta, Georgia (33 degrees north latitude), you can expect approximately 4.5 kWh/m per day with most of this power available between May and September from sunrise to mid-afternoon.
For the best chance of capturing sunlight, mount your panels on a rack or pole facing south with an angle of approximately 20 degrees from horizontal. If you have partial shade from trees or other structures, make sure to adjust accordingly. You can determine how much of the sun’s energy will reach your panels by dividing the panel surface area by the shading coefficient.
There are also multiple variables that determine how much power is produced at any given time with solar panels, including weather conditions and seasons.
Clouds have a milder effect on solar panel effectiveness than most people realize with only an 8% decrease in sunlight (source). More specifically, an overcast day can decrease the kWh/m per day by approximately 45% while a clear day will have almost no effect.
Because of this small difference in production, it’s important to remember that even on what seems like a cloudy day, your solar panels could still be producing some power for you!
Solar panels are an important investment, especially if you’re environmentally conscious. While solar panel installation costs vary depending on where you live and the size of your system, it’s still worth considering how to mount them in a way that will be most effective for capturing sunlight. It might make sense to hire a professional or at least consult with one before installing your own system.