This is a repost of a blog posting on Home Energy Pros by Jamie Press, posted here with permission.
Whether you've decided to live "off the grid" or simply work eco-friendly energy into your current lifestyle, using solar energy is an ideal way to accomplish the goal. Using photovoltaic technology, the heat and light from the sun are converted into electrical energy that you can use to power your home.
Solar panels are made up of solar cells that contain both a positive and negative layer – just like a battery – and the layers generate electricity. Electrons are created and the resulting electricity is sent through the bottom of the panel into a connecting wire that is connected to batteries in your home or car.
Why Go Solar?
Well, the answers are simple. Solar energy is economical. The power itself is free and once the conversion technology is in place, you never have to pay a power bill again. Solar energy is renewable and environmentally friendly. There are no fumes, greenhouse gases, carbon emissions or noise pollution generated by solar power.
How Much Power Do You Need?
Before you get started, you need to determine how much power you require. Look at every appliance and other electrical device in your home and determine not only how many watts are required to power it but how long you use it. Multiply each device or appliance's wattage requirements by the hours it is used in a day. A refrigerator is likely on all day while a computer might only be used four or five hours in a day. Add the results together for your daily wattage hour requirements.
Highest Efficiency Possible
When looking into solar panels, clearly the greatest expense of your new "solar system," it is essential, according to Solar Town to make sure your negative power ratings are as low as possible. Try and keep them under 7%. In addition, "higher efficiency home solar panels take up less space per amount of output and are often the same price as less efficient panels."
Look also at PTC wattage ratings instead of actual outputs, as this is a more standardised and trusted rating. Buy your panels from "manufacturers with proven records" as this offers more "validity to the warranty and helps you protect your investment."
Look for higher efficiency solar panels. According to Solar Town, "Generally speaking, the higher the quality silicon used in production of solar panels, the higher the efficiency. The higher the efficiency, the more power per square inch the panel is producing. High efficiency panels are cut from large, expensive, single ingots of silicon, and are referred to as mono-crystalline. Commodity or lower cost photovoltaic panels are often manufacturer from several smaller cheaper ingots, and are known as polycrystalline, to cut down manufacturing costs."
Make sure, too, that your solar panel manufacturer has a "significant presence" in your country. Say you're in Australia for example, it is important that your solar panels have been tested in the southern hemisphere – and check the results! You want the highest efficiency system with the best warranty you can find. Buying from brands that are well known and have been in a business for a long time ensures that if you should have a problem in five or 10 years, your warranty will still cover your needs.
Ideally, you will want to be dealing with a local solar company that has many happy customers, including testimonials and online reviews.
Get Sound Advice
Watch for packages too. A package deal can be a great way to get started, as long as all of the items in the package are high quality. Sometimes your high quality solar panels will come with inferior inverters or mounting systems, so make sure you know what you're getting. Don't just talk with someone in the sales department, but also with an engineer if you can, as well as customers who have successful installations in their homes. They can tell you what to watch for and what issues they might have had when they got started with their solar energy systems.