Solar Panels: Are They For You?

 By: Sam Braidley
The concept of climate change has become a real, present danger, as evidenced by the major shifts in temperature and weather all over our planet. Although it is too late to stop it now, it is possible to keep things for getting worse. One major way to do this is to encourage the uses of alternative energy sources, instead of using fossil fuels to power our factories, cars and homes. These non-renewable, dirty, expensive energy sources can be replaced by other technologies, such as solar power. Solar power is produced by using solar panels, which are essentially conversion and storage devices for capturing solar energy and turning it into usable electricity. Many people want to do their part in saving the planet and saving themselves money on their light bills, too, but they know little about this important technology. Here are some key factors and concepts involved in the usage of solar power and panels.

Cost factors.

The cost of a solar panel can vary widely; some people make their own, while others choose to buy pre-made panels and have them installed professionally. How much sunlight a panel can absorb, the efficiency at which it operates, etc., are all factors to consider when trying to save money and the environment. Here are some criteria that should be considered for cost-effective solar power:

  • Level of Sunliight: Obviously, the amount of solar power you can use depends on the amount and intensity of sunlight available. If you live in a place that has low levels of sunlight year-round, such as the Pacific Northwest region of the US, you may only get direct, sustained sunlight for a few days per year. This would make installing solar panels not as cost-effective. In order to get the most out of solar panels in places with low sunlight levels, you have to install more panels, and they should be powerful ones with a large energy storage and conversion capacity.

  • Size of Your Home: If you live in a smaller home with fewer rooms and appliances, you will find you get more use out of solar panels with a lower output level. Solar panels for a small to medium-sized home will cost anywhere between $500-$16,000, depending on the tech level of the panels. However, if your house is big, exceeding 5,000 square feet, you will have to shell out a significant sum of money, even if you opt for less-expensive solar panels.

  • Government Grants: The governments of some cities and states offer grants or tax incentives for installing solar panels. Check into these resources to see if you are eligible and take advantage of them if you are.

  • Technological Advances: Solar technology has become much more advanced over the last several years, in terms of overall cost and conversion/storage efficiency. There are also much wider arrays of choices in solar panel options, so you can use this buyer's market to your advantage, to keep costs down.


The Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Panels

Since solar power is renewable, safe, and pure, making it one of the most environmentally-friendly energy sources. It is free, but the cost of the panels themselves can be prohibitive in the eyes of many. Here are some pros and cons of solar energy/panels, to help guide your decision-making process whether to go solar or not.

Pros:

  • Solar energy is produced by the sun, which makes it "free"-the only cost is to collect and transform it into usable energy. Once you have the panels installed, they can be used indefinitely, and the energy produced is completely free.

  • Solar panels require little maintenance once installed, and can work efficiently for years without needing updates or changes.

  • Solar panels remain efficient, even long-term: most solar panels will still operate at p to 90% of their original output, even after 20 years!

  • Requires no work on your part to manufacture power, no wasting money on electric bills


Cons:

  • Large houses need lots of panels to manufacture enough energy to make them cost effective to install.

  • Solar energy only is accessible during the day, meaning your panels must also be efficient for storing the energy as well as receiving and converting it.

  • All panels will have to be replaced after about 20-30 years; if you installed a bunch of them all at once, they will have to be replaced the same way, which can get very expensive.


Reflect on these issues and determine whether solar panels are a good investment for your home and situation. Although they can be expensive to purchase and install, there are alternatives to pre-manufactured panels. Although they are expensive up-front, they can easily work off the cost of their purchase an installation over the years. Technology is improving every day, but you do have to have some up-front capital to get started going solar. Consider all the options and make the best decision.
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