Solar Panels

Solar Panels: What You Need to Know

If you want to reduce your home’s energy consumption and contribute to a cleaner, greener environment, solar panels can be a great way to harness energy from the sun to run or heat your home.  There are two kinds of solar panels that are not interchangeable.  One is used to make electricity, and the other generates heat.  Both can save money on energy bills and contribute to a greener lifestyle.  Read further to learn more about how they work and what you need to consider in determining if a solar panel system is right for you. 

Solar panel systems that create direct current (DC) electricity are called photovoltaic cells.  They typically use a material in the panel to act as a semi-conductor, such as silicon, which converts sunlight into electricity.  Power generated by photovoltaic cells can be used for running appliances and computers, and possibly even the entire house with a big enough system.  However, it only works during daylight hours when the cells receive direct sunlight. 

It’s possible to use a solar photovoltaic system at nighttime and during inclement weather, but it requires storing electricity by using batteries.  You can use less expensive lead-acid batteries similar to the one in your car, but distilled water must continually be used to fill them and keep up their charge.  Sealed absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries require less maintenance, but are more expensive.  If you live in a cold climate, gel batteries are an optimal choice because they are freeze resistant. 

Solar panel systems that convert sunlight into thermal energy in order to heat fluids (such as water and oil) are called solar thermal collectors.  These normally use plastic tubing, coils, or hoses in the panel.  When liquid goes through the tubing, the sun heats it.  Solar panels like these are perfect for heating pools, hot tubs, and spas, as well as hot water for residential and business use.  They can even be used to heat building space through the use of baseboard units or hot water systems in flooring.  Once installed, the need for other heating fuels can even be eliminated.  But the fluids need to be circulated with some sort of motorized pump.

Both the electric and thermal solar panel systems are usually encased in glass panels and require direct sunlight.  Sunny, warm climates are the best place to take advantage of solar panel systems.  The best place to situate them is an open place facing south that is exposed to sunlight all day long.  Solar panel systems are least effective in areas prone to cloudy weather much of the year.  No matter what the climate, both systems benefit from the addition of a backup generator.  Fueled with biodiesel, generators can fit right in with a green lifestyle.  If battery storage should fail or inclement weather persist for a long stretch of time, having a generator ready can ensure that there is no disruption in electricity or heat service.

As long as you’ve considered all the factors of climate, costs, and materials, solar panel systems can be a great addition in your commitment to eco-friendly green living.  Under the right circumstances, solar energy is an effective, clean way to run and heat your home and save on energy costs at the same time.

Solar Panels: The Key to Energy Independence?

What would it mean to be completely energy independent? To never receive another energy bill? To never write another check in the triple digits made out the electric company? If you’ve fantasized about going “off grid” and wondered about the viability of solar panels for your home, read further. There are definite benefits to solar energy and it is a possibility for many, but there are some important considerations to think about first.

The first thing to consider is whether or not the place you live would make you a good candidate for the use of a solar energy system. Is your home in a warm, sunny climate? Or is your region prone to overcast, gray cloudy days for much of the year? A solar panel energy system only works when it receives sunlight. However, you can store electricity to use at nighttime and on cloudy days by using batteries. The problem is that you need enough large direct current (DC) batteries to be able to sustain you for as many as three days of overcast weather. This can be costly, and the batteries need to be replaced periodically. It also requires considerable storage space, such as an extra outbuilding or large basement.

An additional expense to this system is the investment of a backup generator. During a long period of cloudy weather, you don’t want to run out of electricity when the capacity of your battery storage runs out. You’ll need to purchase and store not only the generator, but the fuel it needs to run it, which is usually gas or diesel. After going through all the trouble to run your home in way that’s eco-friendly, it’s more logical to use biodiesel, and that of course is costlier.

A more feasible option in solar energy for many people isn’t total energy independence, but is a great compromise. Some electric companies allow you to use net metering to greatly reduce your electric bill. It works like this: any excess electricity produced by your solar panels in the daytime is credited back by the electric company. So you’re only using your electricity company’s power at nighttime and during inclement weather. The benefits are that you don’t need to pay for or find a place to store all those DC batteries. Of course you still need to deal with your electric company, but you will definitely save money on your energy bills. Call your local electric company to make sure that net metering is offered if this is something that interests you.

So depending on your location and how much time and money you can commit to keep up your solar energy system, the answer the original question is yes, it’s possible to be energy independent. Unfortunately it’s not a cheap or easy project. If you have plenty of storage room and passion to run your home exclusively on solar energy because of the benefits to the environment, go for it. But if you have limited space, remember that net metering could be another environmentally friendly option.