Considering installing solar panels?

The innovation of photovoltaic (PV) cells, also known as solar panels, was created to meet the demand for increased energy consumption. Despite your location or roof shape, there is an option that works for you.

Best of all, these mighty warriors might just be the single best investment you can make in your home.

4 Types of Residential Solar Panels

Over 50 years ago, the scientists at Bell Telephone discovered that silicon (found in sand) creates an electrical charge when it is exposed to sunlight. Solar panels are founded on this basic premise.

Today, the market has evolved to offer four different types.

1. Polycrystalline: These are the original PV cells. They are usually rectangular shaped created by pouring melted silicon into a mold. They are competitively priced and easy to install but are not as heat-tolerant or efficient as other panel types.

Polycrystalline PV cells are also known as blue-colored panels.

2. Monocrystalline: These panels are made of pure silicone and have a cylindrical shape. This gives them higher levels of efficiency and produces more energy with fewer units. Due to their manufacturing, these tend to be more expensive than polycrystalline panels.

Monocrystalline PV cells are made from monocrystalline silicon, making them black in color.

3. Thin-Film: This is a relatively newer type of panel that is rolled onto the roof’s surface. This option is less expensive and is less intrusive than bulky panels. However, they are also less efficient and tend to degrade quickly.

Thin film panels are often referred to as second generation solar cells.

4. Solar Shingles: This is the latest in solar technology. Combining existing roofing shingles with solar technology gives the best answer to maintaining a beautiful roof and providing energy. It is important to note that solar shingles are also the most expensive option on the market.

Solar shingles improve the aesthetics of your building.

7 Things to Consider When Picking Solar Panels

  1. Is your house a good candidate for solar?

A solar panel system is heavy. A solar technician can evaluate your roof to determine if it will need any additional support.

Your roof type, shape, material, degree of pitch, and roof orientation all matter. These factors determine how much sunlight your roof can absorb and what type of panels will work best for your needs.

  1. Dimensions

Traditional panels come in two sizes, either 60-cell or 72-cell. A 60-cell panel is 65 inches tall. A 72-cell panel is 77 inches tall. Both are approximately 40 inches wide.

Either one can be installed on a residential roof, but panel dimension is important to consider depending on your roof size.

Solar shingles are similar to the size of regular asphalt shingles and can be used on any size roof.

  1. Efficiency

There are two main types of solar technology: Mono PERC and N-Type.

Mono PERC (Passive Emitter and Rear Contact) technology is the standard for most residential applications. This technology takes a traditional solar cell and adds an additional layer to the backside. The extra layer acts as a mirror and gives the light a second chance to be absorbed. This gives better absorption of solar radiation.

Mono PERC cells have lesser number of electrons than N-Type cells.

N-Type solar cells have the addition of phosphorus. Phosphorus has one more electron than silicone, making the cell negatively charged and allows the cells to be more efficient. These are particularly useful in small spaces.

  1. Color

Most panels come in either silver or black. While some budget options are made with aluminum, the color of your panels has little to do with efficiency.

  1. Cost

Start by looking at your available roof space and your monthly power usage. Then compare the prices of panels on a cost-per-watt basis to get the energy you need with the space you have.

  1. Durability

PV cells or panels are made to withstand external elements. After all, they sit on rooftops and are subject to harsh temperatures and weather changes. They will degrade over time. But this rate of degradation can vary heavily from one panel to another. Over time, they will reduce their power output. Typically, this is at an average rate of 0.5% each year. However, this rate of degradation can vary per provider, and some higher-end panels have a significantly longer lifespan.

  1. Warranty

Warranties vary by manufacturer but will usually guarantee that the panels will generate at 80% of the rated power after 20 years of use. These numbers may vary a bit between manufacturers so it’s important to check with your solar company to see what warranty rates they offer.

Are Solar Panels Worth It?

More solar energy systems are being installed on homes than ever before.

Is this a trend or an evolution?

Is it really worth the overall cost?

We’ve broken down the most common pros and cons for homeowners to decide for themselves whether solar power is the answer they’re looking for.

Pros

Solar power is a renewable energy source. Energy from sunlight is available in any area nearly every day. It is not an energy source that can be cut off or depleted. PV cells work in any climate as long as you have daylight.

Also, using solar energy reduces electricity bills so you’re paying less for the energy you are using. In some cases, your energy bills could be next to nothing. Homeowners may also be compensated for excess energy created that is fed back into the power grid.

You’ll need to keep the panels clear from debris, but they have a relatively low maintenance cost. The inverter may need to be changed every 5-10 years, but the other components of the system are maintenance-free. Quality panels are manufactured to withstand the elements and can last 40 years or more.

They also can increase your home’s value by about 4%. This can come in handy when you go to sell your home.

Cons

A downside for some is that it is usually recommended to stay connected to the grid after installing your solar energy system. This is seen as an “insurance policy” in the case of your panels becoming severely damaged or they malfunction.

There is a possibility that your solar energy system could increase the price of your homeowners policy because of the value they add to your home, you may need to add additional coverage.

Solar installation is not a DIY process and does require a professional solar installer. Some of the less common roof designs may require special installation to secure the panels. Only a licensed installer will know what is required.

Finding a quality PV installer in your area can be difficult. Be sure to choose a local company with a positive reputation for expert workmanship and quality products.

The initial cost of the panels, inverter, batteries, wiring, and system installation can be expensive. Although you could recoup the cost over time, it is still a required investment upfront. However, if you live in an area where your electric costs are already low, you may be underwhelmed by the amount of savings.

Solar power may not be a great investment if you are planning to move soon. Although they can increase your home value, you may not recoup enough to offset the installation cost. There are a lot of counterfeit or cheap PV cells on the market that are not high quality and do not last. If you want the most out of your investment, pick high-quality panels that will last 3-4 decades.

Why Are Solar Panels So Expensive?

There is a huge range in the cost of solar energy systems depending on the type and model. The overall startup cost can be anywhere from $3,500 – $35,000.

The price depends on several factors.

Installation and Labor

This can account for more than 50% of solar energy system costs. Installation and labor depend on your location and are usually between $15,000 and $25,000. It’s important to choose an installation company that utilizes safe practices and is compliant with both manufacturer warranties and local codes. Typically, regions closer to the equator are less expensive to install than those farther away.

The Products

The actual products account for about 46% of the overall costs. Production of photovoltaic cells requires high-grade silicon and lithium, neither of which are cheap materials. This also includes racking, mounting, wiring, etc. High-quality PV cells require advanced hardware and materials.

The Inverter

Inverters usually range from $1000 to $1500 and have a lifespan of between 12-15 years.

Permitting and Inspections

This is typically only a few hundred dollars but something that is required to ensure your solar system follows local ordinances.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

The average cost of solar installation is around $16,000. However, when considering the cost of the solar panels, it’s important to look at the cost-per-watt rather than the overall cost per panel.

This gives you a clear picture of how much energy you’ll receive from your panels.

  • Monocrystalline Solar Cells: Pure silicone panels with a cylindrical shape for higher levels of efficiency.
    • $1 to $1.50 per watt
    • A 6kW panel system will cost between $6,000 and $9,000
  • Polycrystalline Solar Cells: A rectangular shape of silicon is melted and poured into a mold priced competitively for mass production.
    • $0.90 to $1 per watt
    • A 6kW panel system would cost between $5,400 and $6,000
  • Thin-Film Solar Panels: A rolled option that is less expensive and is less intrusive than bulky panels, but requires more roof space which increases the installation cost.
    • $1 and $1.50 per watt
    • A 6kW panel system costs between $6,000 and $9,000
  • Solar Shingles: A built-in system that replaces your current shingles and gives a seamless look and maximum efficiency.
    • $1.80 per watt
    • A 6.14 kW solar shingle roof will cost a total between $39,800 and $48,700

Will the Savings Make Up for the Initial Cost of Solar Panels?

A common misconception is that solar power will erase your electricity bills completely. While this is technically possible, it’s not always the case.

Solar panels are designed to significantly reduce your electricity bill each month.

But how long will it take for those monthly savings to make up for the initial cost of installation?

This is referred to as the solar payback period. The payback period is the length of time it takes to recoup your initial investment. Typically, this is between 4-9 years.

The answer depends on the hours of daily direct sunlight available to the solar cells, the angle of your roof, the size of your panel system, and the rate of electricity you currently use.

You can calculate your own solar payback period with this formula:

Step 1: Determine the size of your system. 

Average electricity usage per year divided by 1,700 (the average electricity generated by one panel) = total solar panel system size

10,000 kWh/1,700 = approx. 6 kW solar system.

Step 2: Know the true cost of your solar system. 

$17,000 is the average cost before incentives.

With an average tax credit of 26%, the total system cost is approx. $12,600.

Step 3: Calculate energy production. 

Multiply the number of kW your panel produces (about 1,700) by the size of your system.

1,700kW x 6kW = 10,200 kWh per year.

Step 4: Cost of electricity in your area.

Take a look at your meter and take your energy production (10,200 kWh) and multiply it by the going electricity rates.

24 cents per kWh x 10,200kWh per year = $2,450 savings each year.

Total solar payback (in years) = Net Costs (step 2) / Average Annual Savings (step 4)

12,600 /2,450 = approximately 5 years

It’s important to keep in mind this is only an estimate and doesn’t consider other benefits, payback incentives, or the additional savings from adding batteries to your system.

How To Lower the Cost of Solar Panels

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the average price for solar energy has already fallen more than 70 percent, and the prices are expected to continue to drop.

Still, consumers can take advantage of incentives to reduce the final bill of their system.

Federal Tax Credit – Tax credits are available for new solar installations that can offset the cost by 20 percent or more for any citizen paying federal taxes.

State and Utility Incentives – There are many additional incentives available in your state which can reduce the cost again by thousands of dollars.

Solar Panel Maintenance

Photovoltaic (PV) cells or panels are a low-maintenance addition to your home. High-quality PV cells are made to withstand high winds, snow, ice, and hail. They typically last about 25-30 years if they aren’t physically damaged. Over time, their output will reduce until they reach a point where it’s time to replace them.

High-quality PV cells are designed to withstand a lot of external pressure and elements.

You can take steps to extend the lifespan of your panels with proactive home maintenance, including:

  • Have your panels inspected and checked once per year by the installer.
  • Keep the panels clear of debris.
  • Replace the inverter after 10 years or as needed.
  • Always maintain and replace batteries.

A Sustainable Solution with Solar Panels

Going solar is an investment in the earth’s future and your own. Whether you’re trying to reduce your electricity costs, minimize your carbon footprint, or both, going solar might be the solution you are looking for.

If you live in an area of the country experiencing middle- to upper-level utility rates, you can pretty much guarantee that even a few solar panels will save you big bucks.

If you haven’t already, start by getting a solar cost and savings estimate to see if the math is in your favor.