Solar Energy Made Easy – A Beginner’s Guide to Installing Solar Panels

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Solar Energy Made Easy – A Beginner’s Guide to Installing Solar Panels

Harnessing the sun’s rays to generate electricity without fossil fuels sounds futuristic. Yet with today’s photovoltaic technology and expanding adoption, solar energy is utterly attainable for homeowners. If going solar intrigues you but seems complex, keep reading. 

Solar Basics

At its essence, generating solar electricity relies on photovoltaic cells converting light into direct electrical current. But a fully functioning system requires additional components to make that current useable in homes.

Solar Panels and Arrays

The most visible parts of a solar energy setup are the solar panels mounted on home rooftops or ground installations. Multiple solar panels installed together form a photovoltaic array sized to match desired electricity generation capacity. Most home arrays range from 5 to 10 kilowatts (kW) but can be scaled larger or smaller. The southward facing unshaded rooftop on most homes provides an ideal mounting location for maximum light exposure over the course of a day.

DC to AC Inversion

While panels directly output direct current (DC), we use alternating current (AC) to power home devices and appliances. An inverter device converts the DC electricity from solar panels to usable 120/240-volt AC power. Grid-connected systems send excess AC power back to the utility grid. Battery storage systems store extra production as DC current, then invert to AC power as needed for home use.  

Net Metering 

According to the folk at solar energy company Vivint Solar, homes with grid-connected solar energy systems often use net metering to receive credits from their utility company for excess power sent to the grid. During sunny midday periods when the solar panels may produce more energy than your home is immediately using, the utility meter essentially spins backwards as it records the surplus. At night when solar panels are inactive, stored power and grid electricity keep the home powered. 

Batteries 

While not essential, pairing solar panels with battery storage allows unused solar energy to be stockpiled in batteries as DC current. This preserves solar energy for use when the sun isn’t shining. Batteries also provide backup emergency power in the event of utility grid outages. 

Monitoring

A meter tracks how much power your household solar generation system produces versus your home’s energy usage. Smart monitoring provides data on system performance and troubleshooting abilities. Web and mobile apps enable remote system management and real-time insights.

Installing Solar Panels

With a handle on how solar power functions, you can explore your installation options. Your three main decisions are purchasing versus leasing, rooftop versus ground mount, and DIY versus professional install.

Purchase or Lease

You can purchase and own your solar panel system outright. This requires substantial upfront investment, typically financed over 10+ years. But purchasing earns you the full long-term financial benefits. Leasing avoids major upfront costs but leads to perpetual lease payments with less potential upside. Weigh options carefully based on your situation. 

Rooftop or Ground Mount

Rooftop solar panel installations maximize light exposure on standard south-facing homes. Ground mounting is a secondary option when rooftops are unsuitable or more solar capacity is desired. 

DIY or Professional Installation

Some solar enthusiasts choose to purchase components and self-install their solar panel systems. This requires substantial expertise but can reduce costs. Most opt for turnkey professional installation to benefit from experience designing optimized systems, navigating permits, managing installations, and servicing systems long-term. 

Conclusion

With a grasp on solar energy basics, you can determine if home solar power is right for your situation. Solicit bids from reputable local installers. Compare system designs and quotes. Research financing options. Gauge applicable incentives. While it may require significant effort upfront, you can enjoy lower energy bills from generating clean, renewable power. 

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