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More About Solar Panels...
Solar panels are the primary component of photovoltaic (PV) systems. They harness radiant light from the Sun to produce a natural, inexhaustible, clean "solar" power. Solar panel systems help reduce pollution and CO2 emissions while generating a quiet, and relatively maintenance free, source of electricity while adding to your current property value. There are various forms of solar panel systems. Some systems are installed on rooftops of homes or businesses and RVs, while others are mounted on poles or open ground areas. There are two types of systems available. Off-grid systems work independent of any utility company and are mostly found in remote locations. Smaller units provide power for items such as computer or phone service, where larger units provide electrical service for a cabin in the woods. Grid-tied systems work in synchronization with your current utility company to accept excess generated electricity and to provide electricity anytime your system is not actively generating energy. These systems come in a wide range of sizes and production capabilities.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Basically, photovoltaic solar panels create electricity by converting sunlight into energy. The process by which this happen is known as the photovoltaic effect. "Photovoltaic" essentially means light electricity. You may have noticed that certain small devices like a solar-powered calculator won't work in the dark, but when exposed to light it will work just fine. This is an example of a tiny electric power generator built right into an everyday item with which that everyone is familiar. Many people are now lighting up their yard or landscaping with solar-powered garden lights. And perhaps you've seen traffic control signage and lighting powered by solar panels.
Made most commonly using the mineral silicon, solar cells essentially create electricity by converting photons of light into electrons. The "photovoltaic effect" occurs when photons of light from the sun strikes these cells, a portion of the energy is absorbed into the silicon, displacing electrons which then begin to flow. In order to harness this flow, the electrons are drawn into a magnetic field generated by positively- and negatively-charged metal contacts on the top and bottom of the cell. producing direct current, or DC, electricity. Using a DC to AC inverter, the DC current is converted to alternating current, or AC, which can then be used to power electrical appliances.
Solar panels are best applied to a structurally sound composite style roof, (with a standard slope), that faces south, east, or west and has little to no shade for optimal sunlight absorption, but may even be used in cloudy areas. They are not recommended for roofs made of slate or clay, or those with a steep slope grade. They can be installed on flat roofs or those made of shake or concrete tiles, however, these types of installations may be a bit more difficult and require additional cost. Even if your roof is not acceptable for solar panels you still have several options. Some units can be pole mounted or you can consider ground-mounted systems as long as you have the required space.
Solar panels require little to no cleaning maintenance. Under rare circumstances, dust and debris may lower the production 5-15%, but usually normal rain and wind keeps most panels producing to nearly optimal capacity. Panels even generate energy during bad weather- just at a slightly lower rate during the event. In the case of snow accumulation, the unit will not produce any energy until the snow melts. Since the panels are usually installed at an angle or slant, and are placed in the optimal location to receive sunlight, the snow melts relatively quickly and slides off with no additional assistance required. Solar panels are even manufactured to withstand lightening strikes, high winds, and hail up to approximately three-quarters of an inch. Please be aware that during a power outage grid-tie systems will not produce electricity for the safety of utility workers who may be working on any nearby power lines.
A Brief History of Solar Panels
Many people mistakenly assume that solar panels have a relatively new history. Did you know that in reality, the search for alternative energy sources relating to solar power dates back to the 1830's? In fact, Leonardo da Vinci even had sketches and ideas of how to harness the sun's energy.
In 1839, a young man named Alexandre-Edmond Bequerel became the first to discover the photovoltaic effect. Nearly forty years later, William Grylls Adams in 1876 developed a more sophisticated solar cell. He discovered that a solid material called selenium produced electrical currents when exposed to the light of the sun. This might sound simple, but it was a huge step towards the advanced panels we use today. It wasn't until 1953 when solar energy was able to be put to practical use. Gerald Pearson of Bell Laboratories developed a solar cell using silicon instead of selenium. Unfortunately, like most new technologies, Pearson's solar cells were way out of most anyone's price range. However, the U.S. military bought into Pearson's invention and that's when solar energy really took off.
In the early 1970s the development of solar panels became less expensive and was used for other applications besides military use, particularly interesting is their use in space and aeronautics as well as telecommunications, remote sensing, and marine navigation and research.
Recently, with technological improvements mounting, prices have dropped and continue to drop as popularity and production increases precipitously.
Advantages of Solar Panels
Private home owners are discovering the benefits to our environment and a way to live happily off the grid or are considering installing a grid-tied solar power system to offset their electric bill or due to a belief in reducing their carbon emissions. These are great reasons to "go solar"...
- Ecologically Friendly - For obvious reasons, the use of solar panels is Eco-friendly and considered one of the most "green" electricity resources. Because because they operate by interacting with a renewable energy source, sunlight, there is no fear of depleting yet another natural resource.
- Decreased Electrical Bill - By switching to solar energy, you will save money on your electrical bills every month. Even if electricity bills continue raising in the next few months you will have the peace of mind knowing that your energy source is based on solar power.
- Low Maintenance - Solar panels have no moveable parts and are very simple to use. After being set up properly, they do not need to be tinkered with and will continuing working for many years. In fact, many manufacturers have 25 year warranties on their panels.
- Efficiency - No matter where you live, the chances are that you can successfully use solar panels for you electrical needs. They are rugged and are very adaptable to climate conditions and the latest panel models are efficient enough to work well without facing directly south and some will even produce electricity under cloud cover.
Regardless of who you are or what type of home you have, solar power is one of the best ways to provide you and your family with electricity without causing more damage to our planet.
There are many ways to take advantage of the savings gained from solar panel systems. Not only does it help you save by cutting your energy requirement from the utility company, it may also allow you to lock in a lower solar power rate. By using the electricity produced by your unit during the day, (when rates are at their highest), and using the utility company's power in the evening, (when the rates are at their lowest), you will lower your overall cost for all of your electrical use. There are also many rebates available to help you save 40-60% on the cost of acquiring your system. For more information on rebates and incentives for installing a solar power system on your home or business look up "Energy Incentives" on the IRS website or check with your local tax adviser for details.
How Much Does It Cost?
Many people make the mistake of prematurely writing off solar panels as a primary or secondary source of electricity due the perceived high costs. True, they are fairly expensive for most people's budgets. However, there are tax rebates and other state, local, and utility company incentives for which you may qualify, significantly reducing the cost of an installed solar power system.
Today's Solar Panel Technology
Solar panel technology improves seemingly by the day thanks to agressive research and development efforts. We have gone from an extremely expensive and relatively inefficient solar panel in the 1970s that only our government could afford to a fairly priced, highly efficient panel today that most anyone can afford.
Regardless of our technological advances, photovoltaic panels will remain the primary component of photovoltaic systems for the foreseeable future. There are various different types of photovoltaic cells that are currently being developed to improve efficiency and production costs.
Another very interesting and promising field of research is in the development of photovoltaic concentration technology. This technology uses specialized equipment to focus great amounts of sunlight rather than just what happens to be shining down on the solar panel.
Every day sees new breakthroughs in PV technology as researchers strive to create cheaper and more efficient products. Even with all the activity in the solar industry, one thing is for certain, solar panels are one of the best ways to create electricity simply and efficiently while reducing carbon emissions and making life better for all of us.
We choose to look at it another way, never-minding incentives: instead of buying that next SUV, invest in a residential solar power system. After all, the cost is roughly the same before incentives and rebates. But doing so would do two very important things: 1) Insead of an SUV that's going to spew harmful green-house gases for several years you'll have a power generating plant installed and generating clean, renewable electricity for your home, and 2) You'll either reduce or eliminate your monthly electric bill, depending on the size of system you invest in. If you install a large enough system and you use less electricity than your system produces, you may even get paid for that unused electricity through and arrangement commonly referred to as "net metering". Imagine, instead of sending your electric power company a check each month, you get a check from them!
Solar panel systems are also a good investment because they last! Most solar panels will last a minimum of 20 years or longer and many last between 25-35 years. It is recommended that you purchase the size of system that you need in the beginning, but in many circumstances we can help design an "add-on" type unit to meet your needs. This will allow you to add to your system as your budget allows. Feel free to contact us for your free, no-pressure evaluation.
What Are You Waiting For?
For many home owners there is no longer any excuse for not giving solar power a try. Indeed, after calculating applicable state and federal tax and utility company rebates and incentives, and with historically low prices on quality solar panels, more people than ever can afford the luxury of producing clean, renewable energy for their home!