Alternative energy is a hot topic these days, and solar is often at the top of the list of green energy systems.  Certainly, wind energy also gets its fair share of attention, but wind installations can be extremely pricey, noisy and often run up against zoning restrictions. New technology is making solar panels more efficient every year and the choices available regarding the size and type are more plentiful than ever before.

How do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels are made up of many solar cells, whose job it is to produce electricity from the sun's rays.  The most common and popular solar cells are made of silicon, a semiconductor material that absorbs sunlight.  The effect that sunlight has on the cell is to produce energy, which in turn causes movement of electrons within the cell.  An electric field within the cell marshalls the electrons in a one-directional flow, called a "current".  The current, combined with the cell's voltage, determines the wattage of the panel.  Another name for solar panels is photovoltaic, meaning, literally, "light-energy".

Types of Solar Panels

Rigid-frame silicon solar panels are the most popular as well as the most efficient.  While prices are coming down, they still represent the most expensive type of panel.  New technology now offers the flexible solar panel, which is less efficient than the rigid style but is also more affordable.  Flexible panels afford advantages over their more rigid counterparts such as being mass-produced as solar roof shingles, thus being able to cover much larger roof areas at a much lower cost.

Finding Residential Solar Panels for Sale

Locating new solar panels is as easy as doing an internet search for that term.  Compared with just a few years ago, there are many, many more companies offering these items for sale.  Comparatively new "plug and play" systems are now available for well under $5,000 and can usually be installed by the homeowner--a huge savings.  Although they don't power more than a couple of appliances, they are infinitely expandable.  Those looking to save even more can find a ready source of used panels on eBay and various forums, although experts warn that models older than 2005 are much less efficient than today's panels and are not very tolerant of shade. For those looking to power much of their household using solar, however, installation by trained personnel is a must and definitely not a do-it-yourself project.