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how do solar panels work

The Top 10 Solar Panel Questions, Answered

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Have questions about solar? You’re not alone! Even though solar has been around for a long time, many homeowners want to know more before they decide if going solar is the right choice for their property. Your curiosity may begin with “How do solar panels work?” and end with money matters. Getting to know PV panels is smart — goodness knows there are a lot of rumors about solar that aren’t true (no, your lights won’t go out after dark if you’re running on solar!).

 

We’ve assembled some of the most commonly asked questions about residential solar panels and answered them in one convenient place. From understanding how solar power works to knowing what happens to solar panels in weather, you’ll be smarter than ever about translating the sun into green energy once you’re done with these FAQs. Let’s get started.

1. How Do Solar Panels Work?

The short answer is that solar panels (officially comprised of photovoltaic — or PV — cells) absorb sunlight and translate it into electricity. The longer answer is that the silicon in PV panels, which is intentionally doped with boron to increase its conductivity, knocks electrons free from the sunlight that hits the panels. This creates an electrical current. Your panels convert the sunlight into direct current (DC) energy.

 

Since most appliances in your home use alternating current (AC) power,  your solar panels are connected to an inverter. The inverter changes the solar energy from DC to AC. From there, the energy is ready to be sent to your outlets and used in your home.

2. How are Solar Panels Affected by Clouds and Rain?

One of the biggest myths about solar power is that it won’t be effective when it’s cloudy. Homeowners who live in areas with a lot of sea fog, for instance, may be worried that getting solar power isn’t worth it. The reality is that solar panels can still capture sunlight even when it’s cloudy outside. In fact, panels can often produce up to 25% of their typical output even when clouds are present. When it’s raining, your solar panels may produce about 10% of their regular output. During weather events, your solar panels can draw upon their storage of saved energy so your home can stay off the grid until the sun comes out again.

3. Do Solar Panels Overheat?

You want your solar panels in direct sunlight. But how much sun is too much sun? Some panels do operate with less efficiency in super hot temperatures. Solar panels are tested for efficiency at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and they’re most efficient around that temperature. Panels will lose a certain amount of efficiency for every degree above 77 (this is called the temperature coefficient figure).

 

If you’re living in the desert, you may want to select panels with a better temperature coefficient. Thin-film panels, which are started to gain steam, are also known to work quite efficiently in hot temperatures. It’s important to note that your panels will still work when they get hot, they may just take longer to generate the same amount of electricity as they do on cooler days. They will draw on stored energy to make up the difference.

4. How Many Solar Panels Does a Home Need?

Now, on to brass tacks. How many solar panels will you need to successfully make the switch from grid power to self-sustaining solar power? There are a lot of factors that contribute to the answer, including the efficiency of the panels you choose and how much power you use every month. For a home that uses 5kW of power each month, you will require on average about 20 panels. You’ll need 300 square feet of roof space, ideally facing south.

5. Can Solar Panels Be Recycled?

If you’re entertaining the thought of going solar you probably care about the environment, and you’re asking yourself how you can recycle the panels when you’re done with them. The good news is that solar panels often last up to 30 years, so you won’t have to change them out often. If you inherit a home with outdated panels and want to upgrade them, however, the rules of recycling may be pertinent to you. The EU has a more organized system for recycling solar panels than the United States, but the US is started to get on board.

 

Many of the components of solar panels, including glass and wiring, can easily be recycled. Groups like SEIA and some individual manufacturers are allowing customers to turn in old panels for repurposing or recycling.

6. Are Solar Panels Expensive to Maintain?

No, solar panels are not expensive to maintain. Regular cleanings represent the majority of your responsibility; depending on where you live and the type of panels you have, you may only need to clean the panels annually. It’s best to consult a professional when you need your panels cleaned and schedule the cleaning for a day that is partly cloudy whenever possible. Aside from cleaning, you won’t need to attend to your panels unless you notice something wrong. Many solar panels have a warranty of 25 years for parts and materials, so you can also count on free replacement components in many cases.

7. Can Hail or Snow Damage My Solar Panels?

Solar panels are specifically designed to withstand harsh weather conditions. In fact, they are tested to make sure they can survive through one-inch hail falling at a rate of 50 miles per hour. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was itself faced with a hail storm, and of the thousands of solar panels on the organization’s campus, only one was broken in the end. When it comes to snow, the main problem is that snow coverage impedes panel efficiency. Many homeowners can simply wait for the snow to melt because the angle at which the panels are installed encourages the melted snow to naturally run downward. You can also hire a professional to come and clear the snow.

8. How Much Money Will I Save with Solar?

The amount of money you save with solar may vary, but if you buy efficient panels and live in Southern California you are apt to save up to $40,000 over the course of your time in your home. You can use Google’s helpful Project Sunroof to estimate how much money solar panels can save you. The tool uses your address and current electric bill to provide you with an estimate.

9. Can I Take My Solar Panels When I Move?

Technically your solar panels are your property and you could take them with you to a new property. But you may not want to consider it when you factor in the increase in your home’s value. In California, a solar panel system that generates about 5kW could improve the worth of a home by tens of thousands. You’re typically better off to leave your solar panels in place, sell your home, and install a different system at your new address.

10. What is Net Metering?

Many city grids, including SDGE, have a program in place to buy your excess energy. Most homes with solar will create more energy than they need, so you may as well be paid for it! Net metering is a system by which homeowners who generate solar energy and remain connected to the grid will send their extra energy to the grid. Your utility company will pay you for this electricity and use it to offset the load for your neighbors. Anything beyond your personal “net” use is used to power your community.

 

Solar power has the potential to make your household energy independent, reduce your carbon footprint, and help your community. When we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, we create new jobs and help protect the California landscape we all love so much. Solar energy is also helping local veterans get back to work after they complete their service. Contact Semper Solaris today to learn more about how to install solar panels on your home. We’ll give you a reasonable bid and talk to you about any other questions you may have about solar use.

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