The newest solar panel technology is the result of over a century of pure and applied research by scientists and engineers including the vaunted Albert Einstein. They are a safe, reliable and affordable method of electrical generation in most areas of the United States with the added benefit of being extremely environmentally friendly.
The current generation of solar panels are easy to install, extremely durable and last for decades. The current economic climate and government subsidies make solar panels an attractive choice for almost every homeowner. With many systems paying for themselves within the first seven to eight years, solar powered photovoltaic systems offer tremendous opportunities for those willing to invest the time, money and energy.
What Exactly Are Solar Panels?
Technically known as photovoltaic modules, solar panels form the heart of any direct solar-powered generating system. Unlike the thermal type of solar generating system, solar panels are manufactured to extremely high tolerances and convert sunlight directly to electricity using the photovoltaic effect. These elegantly conceived and precisely manufactured pieces of technology are truly wonders of science.
The panels themselves are actually collections of interconnected photovoltaic (PV) cells on a sturdy framework. When sunlight strikes these cells, they induce an electric current that is then channeled in to the house system, stored in batteries or sent to the utility grid. In the last case, a homeowner can actually watch his electric meter reverse itself if the electrical demands of the household are exceeded by the supply from the system.
The Manufacture of Solar Panels
Several processes have been developed to place and interconnect the PV cells. The photovoltaic cells are manufactured from various light sensitive metals and alloys in an incredibly expensive procedure. Each type has a specific affinity for certain wavelengths and it is not unusual to have several types of PV cells to be used in a single system to increase its versatility and efficiency in different lighting environments.
The rest of the construction of the solar panel is exacting but not as technically difficult or expensive. In any event, the PV cells are attached to a rigid sheet of glass and electrically connected. The connections can be made physically with wire or, more generally, are incorporated into the deposition process. Finally, a second layer of glass is added to seal and protect the photovoltaic array.
Is Your Area Suitable for a Solar System?
There are several considerations that must be taken into account to make an informed decision about a solar power system. Obviously, an important consideration in deciding whether a solar powered generating system is cost effective for you is your location. As an example, a location such as the Los Angeles metro area is blessed with sunshine for an average of 263 days per year.
It should also be remembered that solar power systems do not need complete sunshine to perform their function. If you take into account partially sunny days, the L.A. area has over 300 days of “usable” sunlight. Don’t worry, this calculation has already been performed for every town and city in the United States. You merely need look it up and apply to your actual location.
The second consideration is your current utility rate for electricity. Continuing with the Los Angeles example, one finds that solar power is more cost comparable than in areas such as Texas where utility rates are generally lower. In addition, tracking modules are utilized in many of these systems. With these systems, the solar panels are physically rotated and tilted the to obtain optimal exposure to the sun thus increasing the overall efficiency of the system.
Lastly, the Federal government is continues to offer a variety of incentives for the installation and use of solar powered systems. Some state governments also offer separate incentives. While these incentives do not eliminate the entire cost of installation. They defray some of the initial costs and make the entire process economically feasible.
In addition, most communities require that utility companies purchase any excess power from independent solar power generators. Combine these facts and one finds a compelling argument for the installation of a solar powered system in a home.
Lifespan and Guaranties?
Solar panels are regularly exposed to the worst that Mother Nature has to offer. High-end sensitive electronics do not, in general, take kindly to this kind of treatment. Still, solar panel manufacturers guarantee their products for several decades worth of use.
Reputable companies will guarantee that their product will sustain, at least, a 90% output for the first decade and then an 80% output rate for a further 15 years. Many solar panels and their associated systems routinely exceed this guarantee in both output and longevity.
At these output rates, solar systems can easily pay for themselves within seven to eight years. Afterwards, the homeowner reaps the benefits of essentially free electricity. In addition, a solar system adds value to the price of the home.
In the end, the potential solar power purchaser must first weigh the costs of installation, routine maintenance and repairs against the savings in utility costs generated by a solar power system. Next, the purchaser should factor in the rebates offered by manufacturers and the incentives given by the Federal and various state governments. Lastly, they should consider that the cost of traditional, fossil fuels is almost certain to rise and with them, the price of electricity.
With these facts in mind, the purchaser can make an truly informed decision about the economic benefits of solar power to his financial health. There is, however, one further consideration that should be made.
The Final Decision
Over the course of the next few decades and beyond, solar will continue to advance technologically. Each step will make it make it a more affordable option versus coal , oil or natural gas. The choice to switch will then be simple.
For the moment, solar power is still an investment that takes years to produce returns. However, it also benefits one’s family, neighbors, and the planet as a whole. For this reason, and this reason alone, the newest solar panel technology is truly worth the investment.