Solar Panels - Uses, Installation and Advantages
Installing solar panels in your home
Solar panels are devices that take the light of the sun and convert it into energy suitable for use in your home. They're usually placed on the roof of your house and connected to your heating system.
What are the uses of solar panels?
The two main uses of solar panels in the home are to heat your water and produce electricity. Solar panels designed to heat water are also known as thermal solar systems, while electricity-producing panels are sometimes called photovoltaic systems.
How do solar panels work?
Panels work in different ways depending on what they're used for. If you have a solar water heating system, this usually contains a "collector", to absorb solar radiation and turn it into heat. Then a heat-conducting liquid carries the heat from the collector to the hot water tank.
In an electricity-producing system, a positively charged layer of silicon is placed against a negatively charged layer of silicon, forming a field for electrical charges to pass through. Sunlight creates this electric charge when it shines on the panel. Then a conductive metal concentrates the charge into an electric current which can power household appliances.
What are the advantages of solar panels?
Many of us worry about our fuel bills and the environmental impact of our fuel consumption, while a free and clean source of energy is shining down on us all day. In one minute, the sun gives the earth enough energy to meet the earth's power needs for a year. If you install a solar panel in your house, you are tapping into this massive source of free energy, and slashing your fuel bills. There are also great environmental benefits to solar energy, as it produces no pollution.
Will a solar panel in my home save me money?
You will save money in the long-term, but the financial benefits of installing a solar panel are not immediate. Cost savings depend on several factors:
- How much sun there is where you live. This is measured in peak hours, i.e. the number of hours during the day that your solar panel is working to full capacity.
- How much electricity you currently use
- The capacity and cost of the panels you purchase. For example, a new solar panel producing 120 watts costs around $700. Used panels are cheaper, but usually only about 90 per cent as efficient as new ones.
- The price of other forms of energy. If other forms of fuel are at a premium, then solar panels represent greater savings. For example, during 2000-2001, average Americans spent 4.6 per cent of their income on energy. However, such prices fluctuate depending on many factors, and it's impossible to predict what will happen to fuel prices over the next few years.
As a general rule, it will take at least five years before your solar panel pays for itself. This represents an excellent investment if you're planning to stay in your home for a long period. If you're planning to move out of your home in the next few years, you need to think about whether the solar panel will add a sufficient amount to the value of your property. Some potential buyers find the appearance of solar panels unattractive, but others will see dollar signs when they hear the words "free electricity".
Can I get a grant to install a solar panel?
Many states offer financial incentives for installing solar panels in your home. The Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) gives information on its website (www.dsireusa.org). For example, Wyoming residents get $3000 or half the cost of the system, whichever is less.