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Capital One's investment in Solar City in 2014 has struck gold. Image from Gigaom

Should You Put Solar Panels On Your House?

Solar Panels for Every Home

Here comes the sun, little darling… and it is here to stay for more than 5 billion years, supplying our planet with 173 thousand terawatts of solar energy. Wow! And wow again! After this pompous presentation of few solar facts, let us talk about energy efficiency, how solar panels could contribute to the protection of our planet and what impact will the installation of the solar roof have on your bank account.

In case you want to go solar, you are probably wondering how do solar panels work, how much does it cost to have a nice shining solar roof and what happens when the sun goes down or you happen to live in cloudy region.

How do solar panels work? 

Solar roofs consist of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels which convert sunlight directly into electricity. Wondering how is this possible? The answer lays in the construction of the solar panels. Solar panels consist of smaller units named solar cells which are made of silicon crystals, used as a semiconductor material. Two layers of semiconductor material have the opposite charges – positive and negative. When sun beams hit the surface of the solar panel and enter the solar cells, its energy sets electrons free in both layers. Free and happy electrons would like to flow between two layers but so called P-N junction (surface between positive and negative layer) prevents them from completing their mission. However, the electrons start to float from the positive to the negative layer through the external circle, providing a flow of electricity.

On the cloudy days, a special battery is used and integrated into the solar system as its backup. The battery charges with energy produced by solar panels. In that way, energy is available during nights and days deprived of sunlight. After this brief explanation on how the solar panels work, let us skip to the more important question.

What are the preconditions for the installation of the solar PV system? For starters, your location matters. Simply said, some locations are blessed with more sun. Going solar will be far easier and a good investment for the lucky guys living in a sunny area. Another factor which should be taken into consideration when planning on installing photovoltaic systems is a so called global solar radiation. It represents an amount of sunlight which hits on a square meter of a horizontal surface within a period of one year. We will leave this one to the experts, but you have to know that this factor is quite important when doing a yield calculation of a solar PV system.

The orientation of household matters as well. Optimal orientation is the South, but roofs oriented towards the East and the West can also turn solar. Another factor is the pitch of the roof which depends on the orientation. The best roof angle for solar systems is between 30 and 45 degrees. Along the above-mentioned factors there are few more such as building ownership, zoning or district restrictions which could prevent the installation of solar panels. Finally, you need an expert by your side because going solar is not only catching sun beams and turning them into electricity. It requires some planning and effort as all valuable things do.

What’s new in 2017 regarding the solar panel technology?

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Serious improvements of solar energy storage, tech design, efficiency, solar cell fabrication and wearability have been made during the past year. Solar power is constantly being enhanced. So what are the solar panel technology breakthroughs for the 2017? Thanks to the invention of „solar skin“, solar panels can now match the appearance of roof and remain efficient and cost effective at the same time. Solar panels’ design has been significantly enhanced and rather easy on the eyes. Another new feature of solar panels is portability. Nowdays, you can transfer your solar panels with ease. However, these small-sized panels have a disadvantage – limited power output which varies from 80 to 120 watts. It’s a great thing that you can take them anywhere with you! The price of the portable solar panels differs regarding their price, but you can expect to pay for them from around £200 to £400. They are easy to clean and there are no installation costs which makes them quite affordable. Portable solar panels can be used for powering up small home appliances, they are easy to store anywhere and a great gadget when going outdoors. Along with the portable solar panels, comes a solar charge controller, cable and a storage case…everything needed to charge the battery bank. Solar batteries have also been significantly upgraded and made much more affordable nowdays. Still, solar batteries remain to be the most exspensive part of solar systems and when buying them you should consider battery’s capacity, depth of discharge (DoD), round-trip efficiency, manufacturer, warranty and power rating. Well, that’s a topic for another article. There are some advancements made regarding the solar efficiency. A team of researchers based in Israel, created a photoluminescence material which turns heat and light into electricity and thus enables an increase in solar cell’s 30 percent efficiency rate for approximately 50 percent.

Are solar PV systems and solar roofs a good investment?

The prediction is that the energy prices will continue rising in the future so by installing solar panels you can surely save money on your energy bills.  You can also earn money through so called Feed-In Tariffs (FITs). Feed-In Tariffs are payments to people who use renewable energy resources and clean tech. Folks know it under the name of Clean Energy Cashback. Some governments have decided to cut off FITs but the solar panels still remain cost effective. Over the period of 20 years on average, you can expect the solar panels to deliver savings of approximately £8,080. Despite the reduction of the solar funding available to the households, predictions are that going solar can reduce your energy bills up to 50%. Solar roofs last much longer than traditional roofs, the price of their installation has fallen significantly by over 70% in recent years and yes, it should be mentioned once again – the prediction is that the electricity costs will increase in the future. It is quite hard to determine and calculate how much time it will take to make a return on your investment since it will depend on FIT rates, size of your solar roof and solar system in general and how much energy is spent by your household. Approximate calculation based on average measures says it takes 14 years to start making a profit. If you decide to go solar in 2018, you can expect a return of 4,8% over 20 years.

Thomas Edison once remarked: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy! What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until the oil and coal run out before we tackle that.“ He sounds pretty convinced that going solar is the right thing to do. Not only we will preserve the ecological system of our planet but by using solar systems and roofs we keep our pockets full as well. The sunshine is not only a thing which makes you smile and feel joyful, it is a powerful renewable resource of energy. Keep that in mind and go solar!

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