Choosing Solar Equipment
If you have been trying to figure out how to choose solar panels, you might find the process overwhelming. There is a ton of information available out there and it can be difficult to distinguish the meaningful from the meaningless.
We’ve put together this article to help with that. Its purpose is to make choosing solar panels an easier thing for you to do. So keep reading to learn:
- How to choose solar panels for your home
- The factors that you should consider when choosing solar panels
- Other tips to make understanding solar power easier
Factors to consider while choosing solar panels
Swapping your home over to solar power is a big investment. That is why it’s important to think carefully before deciding on the solar panels that you will use. Here are several key factors that should be part of your decision-making process.
Each solar panel that you look at will have a voltage level. The most common levels are 12, 24, and 48 volts. Generally, the higher your voltage, the more efficient your system is.
That is because running a higher voltage lets you reduce the wire gauge that you need to run your system. And when your wire gauge goes down, your efficiency goes up.
The bottom line with voltage is this: choose a higher voltage if you want to optimize efficiency. Just know that you’ll likely need to pay more upfront if you want a high voltage system.
You also want to figure out how much power you need your solar equipment to produce before you select your solar panels. Otherwise, you risk buying a system that doesn’t actually satisfy your home’s energy needs.
To do this, you need to make a list of all of the electronic items that you use in your home. Then determine how much you use each of them and add up the total amount of Watts used by all of the equipment.
Then you just verify that the solar panels you are looking at will meet your power requirements.
Size matters because, generally, the bigger your solar panels are the more energy they can generate for you. So to figure out which size solar panels you need, you should determine your power requirements first. Then just verify that you’re buying large enough solar panels to satisfy that requirement.
There are two main sizes for solar panels: 72-cell and 60-cell. This refers to the number of cells that are on the solar panel.
Generally, 72-cells are a better choice if you have room for them. That is because they produce more energy per panel than their 60-cell counterparts.
60-cell solar panels are a better choice for people with tight spaces. They are also typically a bit cheaper than 72-cell panels, which makes them a good fit for people who don’t want to have to spend as much upfront to set up their panels.
Product quality is super important when picking out solar panels. You want to make sure that you are buying from a reputable brand with good reviews. Otherwise, you risk spending a ton of money on a solar system that isn’t actually going to serve your needs long-term.
Upgradability is another important thing to think about while choosing solar equipment. Solar energy is a rapidly evolving industry that’s best and most innovative years are likely still ahead.
For that reason, most homeowners will want to make sure that they buy a system that can be upgraded. Doing so will ensure that you are able to take advantage of technological advancement in the future, which could save you a lot of money on your energy bill down the road.
Also, your energy needs may change over time. If you think you might want more power-generating capability in the future, it is important to pick solar panels that can be upgraded.
Material and Cost
There are four major types of material that a solar panel can be made from monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film, and amorphous. The material that your panels use will influence how they work.
For example, monocrystalline solar panels are best for efficiency because of their high silicon content. These are often the most expensive panels because of their efficiency and range in price from about $300 to $700 per panel.
Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper than monocrystalline solar panels, but not quite as efficient. They cost between $200 and $500 per panel. Some people go with polycrystalline panels because they use all of the silicon material that they’re manufactured with, which makes them the most environmentally friendly option.
Thin-film solar panels are generally the cheapest panels but they also take up the most space. These cost between $175 and $300 per panel.
Finally, amorphous solar panels are meant for smaller homes. These utilize a process called stacking, in which multiple layers of amorphous panels are stacked on top of one another. They cost about $200 to $400 per panel.
Keep in mind, the national average cost for a solar panel system is about $18,500. That number can vary some from state to state.
What affects solar panel output efficiency?
There are actually a ton of factors that can influence solar panel efficiency. And that can be a bit confusing. Because if it is not immediately clear how efficient a set of solar panels are, you can’t know exactly how many you need to power your home.
There are no hard and fast rules here. But we will explain the factors that impact solar panel output efficiency to make it easier for you to figure out what you are looking for while you shop.
There are three main things that impact a solar panel’s output efficiency:
- The wattage it has
- How well it’s able to convert sunlight into energy
- Cell technology
For example, when a solar panel doesn’t have grid lines on the front, it is generally able to convert sunlight into energy more efficiently. Similarly, panels with more wattage are able to produce more power out of the sunlight that they absorb.
Assessing Your Solar Potential
If you are just starting your shopping process, you may not yet realize that all homes are not able to produce the same amount of solar power. The amount of power that your home is able to generate with solar panels will be dependent upon how much sun reaches the home.
So before investing in solar, it is a good idea to first assess how much power can be created by the sun on your property and whether your house is a good fit for solar panels. There are a few ways to do this.
One option is to consult with a solar contractor. Another option is to use our mapping tool.
Regardless of the path you choose, here are some factors that could impact how much solar energy your home is able to produce:
- Shade from trees that could reduce the amount of sun that hits your system
- The age of your roof and how soon you’ll need to replace it
- Any neighborhood or homeowner association (HOA) restrictions on what you can place on your roof.
Reviews of popular solar panel brands
Online reviews can be a great source of information as you figure out how to choose solar panels. They offer real-world feedback from customers who are actually using the products that you might buy.
For example, the following is a list of the top solar companies in the world by market capitalization. Buying from one of these companies is a great way to make sure you get quality products that are backed by a strong brand:
- Canadian Solar
- Trina Solar
- First Solar
- JA Solar Holdings
Just be sure to take individual user-submitted reviews with a grain of salt. You shouldn’t form your opinion about a company on the basis of one or even several reviews. Instead, it is best to look at broad trends in reviews to see what feedback keeps coming up.
As you look into reviews for popular solar panel brands, you might hear about something called manufacturer tiers. This tier system splits solar panel brands based on factors like:
- How long they have been making solar panels
- Whether they make their own panels or not
- How many panels they produce each year
- How stable the company’s balance sheet is
- And several other factors
Manufacturers with the best scores in these categories are ranked tier 1. Those with middling scores are ranked tier 2 and those with the worst scores are ranked tier 3.
Generally, tier 1 solar panels cost about 10 - 30% more than tier 2 or 3 ones. But that does not mean that tier 1 panels are inherently superior to tier 2 or 3 ones. It just means that analysts expect tier 1 brands to offer buyers more security and stability over the long haul.
For example, tier 1 solar panel manufacturers tend to offer longer and better warranties. They also usually care more about their brand image, which means they will be less likely to allow bad customer experiences to remain unresolved.
A word on incentives
The government offers people who buy solar panels financial incentives to encourage the adoption of clean energy. These make it more financially viable for homeowners to purchase solar systems since they let them do so at a lower cost.
The most common type of incentive is the solar rebate program. With this, you get a percentage of the money that you spend on a solar system back in the form of an instant rebate.
You can save between 5% and 20% through the solar rebate program. But the exact amount that you save will vary based on the state that you live in.
The federal government also offers a federal tax credit for homes with solar systems. This currently provides a 26% tax credit to those who qualify. The credit is scheduled to expire in 2024 but will likely be renewed by Congress.
Other tips for choosing the right solar panel equipment
Choosing solar equipment is a complicated process. So here are some additional tips for finding the best equipment for your unique needs.
The most efficient way to choose solar panels is to follow a three-step process. First, compare the efficiency of the solar panels that you’re looking at to the industry average of 16-18%.
Then, look at the warranty for the product that you’re interested in buying and compare that to the industry average of 10-25 years.
Finally, compare the cost of the panels to the relative efficiency that they offer. You should not pay more than the industry average for panels that only offer average or below-average efficiency.
There is one super important rule of thumb for picking an inverter that you need to know before buying. The size of your inverter needs to be of a similar DC rating to your broader solar panel system.
For example, if you plan on using a 5 kW system, the right inverter for that system will offer around 5,000 Watts of power.
There are two major types of inverters: string inverters and module-level power electronics (MLPEs). String inverters are a low-cost option that takes DC power from your panels and converts it into AC power to use in your home.
MPLEs cost more but also tend to be more efficient. They can help you get more out of a solar system that is set up in non-optimal conditions (such as one that’s in the shade for part of the day).
Mounts are super important to your solar panel system. They allow the panels to be tilted at the perfect angles to capture the maximum amount of energy from the sun.
Generally, the costs of mounts will account for about 10% of the total costs of your solar panel system.
The most respected mount brands in the solar panel industry come from Ironridge, Quick Mount PV, and Unirac. So it is generally best to go with a product from one of these companies if you want the best for your system.
There are a few different types of mounts that you will want to consider. For example, ballasted mounts are best for folks who live in areas with little wind. They are also the cheapest mounting option and tend to only cost between $50 and $100 per panel.
A mechanically attached mount is a more secure option. It is a good choice for homes in areas with lots of wind or those with other types of severe weather. These cost between $75 and $25 per panel.
Hybrid mounts are also available. These offer the security benefits of mechanically attached mounts with the angling benefits of a ballasted mount.
Finally, you also have the option of a fixed mount. These don’t go on the roof at all. Instead, you set them up on your property and they automatically follow the sun during the day to generate as much power as possible.
Choosing the right solar battery for your solar energy system can be complicated. You need to consider a ton of factors, including capacity, power, depth of discharge, and warranty, just to name a few.
We will save the details of this for another article. But here is a formula you can use to figure out which size solar battery you need:
- Calculate the total Watt-hours per day of energy you use
- Divide that number by 0.85 to account for battery loss
- Divide the previous answer by 0.6 for depth of discharge