Homeowners can cut energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint by installing solar panels. Before you install a solar photovoltaic system, you should know these things.
Semiconducting materials in the solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. When sunlight hits these cells, the energy knocks electrons loose, allowing electricity to flow. This electricity is direct current (DC), but your home uses alternating current (AC). So the solar panels connect to an inverter to convert the DC to usable AC electricity. The inverter ties into your home’s electric panel, often through a net meter. It allows any excess electricity your panels produce to flow back into the grid, spinning your home’s electricity meter backward.
What factors impact performance?
The amount of usable sunlight that hits your solar panels will determine how much electricity they produce. Factors like shade, cloud cover, pollution/debris buildup, and which direction they face impact production. South-facing panels tilted at an angle equal to your latitude receive the most direct sunlight. You’ll get the best output if you have unshaded southern exposure on your roof. Output will also vary by region and local climate patterns. Talk to local solar installers to get an accurate idea of typical production in your area.
Consider the warranty fine print
Reputable solar companies will provide warranties of 25-30 years for solar panels, 10-25 years for inverters, and 10+ years on installation workmanship. Carefully review the terms of each warranty and what exactly is and is not covered. For example, many panel warranty terms state output will decline less than 20% in 25 years. So a 5-kilowatt system could produce 4 kilowatts or less by year 25 and still be within warranty terms. Understand these product lifecycles when estimating long-term costs and savings.
While solar PV systems require little maintenance compared to other home systems, they still need some occasional upkeep. Their glass surfaces need to be cleaned a few times per year since dirt and dust buildup degrades solar absorption. Also have a professional solar technician inspect connections, wiring, and inverter operation every 3-4 years. Major failures are uncommon if name-brand components are used, but parts wear out over decades of use. Stay on top of minor maintenance, and you’ll maximize your solar investment.
Disposing of solar panels
Today’s solar panels are designed to outlast their 20-30-year power production warranties. But eventually, their efficiency will drop below usable levels. So what happens when your solar panels reach their expiration date? In improperly disposing of solar panels, such as aluminum frames, copper wiring, silicon cells, polymers, and various metals, they become e-waste. Recycling options for solar panels are currently limited but improving, considering the world’s accelerating adoption of solar. Startups and major waste management firms like Veolia are ramping up solar panel recycling capacity. And solar panel producers must comply with law to finance the collection and recycling of solar e-waste in an increasing number of states. Still, current recycling rates in the single digits show there’s plenty of room for improvement.