Solar Panels

Solar Panels - Low Angle

Solar panels are becoming more popular in the world today as more consumers try to reduce or eliminate altogether their dependence on traditional energy systems. Even though solar panels have become more common, buying a solar panel system can still be very confusing, so it can be helpful to arm yourself with some information. This solar panels buyer's guide is designed to make your job as a consumer much easier. Here you will find some of the most important information that you need to make an educated decision when selecting solar panels.

What They Do

Solar panels are essentially used to convert the energy from sunlight into electrical energy. This is done by sending the sunlight through a semiconductor in the panels, which converts it into electrical power. Installing solar panels can provide you with a number of benefits as a homeowner--including essentially eliminating your need to be attached to the traditional energy grid. You will be getting your electricity for free, you will not be as susceptible to brown- and blackouts, and if you have a surplus of energy from your solar panels, you can often sell it to the city--adding to your monthly income. This process also helps the environment, as you are not relying on traditional (often, inefficient) methods to generate your power.

Types of Solar Panels

Even though all of these solar panels provide you with the same benefit of collecting the sun's energy, they go about it in different ways. Here are a few of the different types of solar panels that you can expect to find on the market.

Amorphous Solar Panels--These solar panels are extremely thin when compared to some of the other options. These panels are made by spreading silicon over a large sheet of stainless steel. This type of solar panel is basically a thin film that you can spread over any flat surface. Many people use these panels on recreational vehicles and boats because of how lightweight and thin they are. The disadvantage of this type of solar panel is that it is not very efficient. However, this type does perform well when part of the panel is covered in shade.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels--This type of solar panel is typically the most expensive type on the market. It is the most expensive because it is also the most efficient of all of the options currently available. It is constructed by using a single large crystal of silicon. This type of solar panel is considered the premium panel on the market. It even performs well in low-sunlight conditions.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels--This type of solar panel operates under the same idea as a monocrystalline solar panel does. The big difference is that, instead of having one large crystal of silicon, it has many smaller crystals. This makes it a little bit less efficient than the monocrystalline solar panel, but also a little less expensive. Because of the decent efficiency and lower price, this is the most popular type of solar panel currently available.

Lifespan of Solar Panels

When you are purchasing solar panels, one of the most important factors to take into consideration is their lifespan. Ideally, you should look to purchase a solar panel that will last as long as possible, in order to maximize your return on investment through energy savings. Typically, it takes several years for a solar panel system to pay for itself. The average lifespan for most solar panels is about 20 to 25 years.

Number of Panels

One of the more difficult parts of purchasing solar panels is determining exactly how many panels you need. You want to make sure that you purchase enough panels to create the energy that you need for your home, but you do not want to buy a bunch of extra panels because they can get very expensive. You should determine your home's energy needs and try to match that with the solar panels as close as possible.

In order to determine your energy needs, you should consult your electric bill. Review at least a year's worth, preferably more, as in different seasons you most likely use different amounts of energy. You can go by your average daily consumption over the whole year, or if you want to be able to completely cover your energy requirements throughout the year, choose the highest amount of wattage used in one month as the amount you want your solar panels to produce, then divide it by 30 to find your required daily wattage. If you do end up creating more energy than your home needs, you may be able to participate in a local buy-back program in which you sell your excess energy to your power grid.

Determining how much energy your solar panels will produce is the trickiest part. You'll want to research the daily average amount of sunlight your area gets, but unless your solar panels track the sun, they won't be getting direct sunlight that whole time. Also consider if there are tall trees or buildings that may cast shade over the solar panels at points throughout the day. The Florida Solar Energy Center's study "Geographic Variation in Potential of Rooftop Residential Photovoltaic Electric Power Production in the United States" can give you a good idea of how many daily hours of sunlight you should prepare for.


Before you make any purchases of solar panels, you need to make sure that you are eligible to use them in your area. In many areas, you may be required to purchase a permit from the city or county government in order to install solar panels. Make sure that you have this permit in your possession before moving forward with the project.