Solar panels are the foundation of a solar system so you want to get them right. We’ll show you everything you need to know.
Everything you need to know about solar panels
Building a solar system is exciting. But without the right guidance, it can feel like a maze of questions: Which installer can I trust? When is the best time to get solar installed? Which panels will offset my electric bill the most? Will I really save money?
Whew, that’s a lot to break down. But that’s why Baker Solar Professionals are here —we know the details that make the difference, so you don’t have to. Let’s start with those solar panels.
What is a solar panel?
Solar panels collect the sun’s energy and convert it to electricity. Solar PV is the most common technology used to power homes.
There are two main Solar PV types: monocrystalline or polycrystalline, and they offer different aesthetics, efficiency, and price ranges. Their output and efficiency ratings determine their size and total output. Panels are an essential part of a solar panel system and these are just a few factors that will play into the type you choose.
How many will I need?
Sizing your system correctly the first time is critical in meeting your energy goals and maximizing your investment. Why? Because while you can add more in the future, the cost per solar panel will never be as low as it is during your first installation.
Here’s a look at some key things we’ll consider when recommending the size of your system:
1. How much power you use now and how much you plan to use in the future
Your past electric bills will show your usage trends. But we won’t stop there. Think about what you have planned for the future and let us know so we can build your system to handle it. Here are some common changes to consider:
- Installing a pool, hot tub, or major appliance
- Getting an electric vehicle
- Adding a central air conditioner or simply running yours more
- Switching from a gas dryer to an electric one
- Growing your family (more people = more energy)
2. Future power degradation
Your solar panels will have a very long life, most likely 25-30 years or more. Though they are a solid long-term investment requiring little maintenance, they have limits, much like any other machinery or appliance you buy. Over time, all solar panels experience some loss of production, known as degradation.
What does this mean for you? To maintain the same output over time, we need to build in enough power to compensate for degradation. For example, our calculations will include a buffer of energy production now, so you’re not limited by slight power loss 15 or 20 years in the future.
Buying quality solar panels also helps. Tier 1 panels guarantee no more than 10% loss over 25 years. This means that in 25 years your system will still be producing above 90% of the energy production you produced when you first went Solar.
3. How time-of-use (TOU) rates will affect you
In California, all solar homeowners must have a time-of-use plan. With TOU plans, the cost of one kWh of electricity varies depending on the time of day. Rates are typically lower during off-peak hours and higher during peak hours like 4-9 pm.
This means when you send excess energy to the utility at 12 pm, you get a lower credit than for energy sent at 5 pm. Likewise, you’re charged this higher rate if you need to draw energy from the grid during peak hours. We recommend planning a 5-10% cushion to counteract these effects.
Can I add more later?
You can. We’d be happy to help you with that too. But if you’re building a solar system with us, let’s get your solar panel installation right the first time.
We could take shortcuts to make your solar panel system seem less expensive upfront, but we’d just be under-sizing your system. So when you inevitably need more power, you’ll be frustrated to learn that adding even a few panels requires the same fixed projects costs as the first installation (e.g., permitting, design and engineering, and an installation crew). You don’t want that.
Instead, we’ll tell you an industry secret: everyone, and we mean everyone uses more power once they get solar energy.
Call it freedom. Call it human nature. Or call it enjoying your ROI. It’s real, and it proves that with solar energy, people stop limiting their energy usage and start living. One of the most common changes we see from our clients is that they finally feel free to run their air conditioner as much as they want!
This may be the most important thing we can stress: The question is not “will you use more power?”. It’s “how much more will you use?”.
We’ve helped 15,000 local homeowners. No one has ever complained that they ended up with too much power. But the few who opted for less power…well, it wasn’t long before they wished for more!
How do I choose?
When choosing your solar panels, you ultimately need to consider quality, performance guarantee and efficiency.
1. The manufacturer
The tiered solar industry classification system is a helpful guide in choosing the best solar panel company for you. Manufacturers are classified as either Tier 1 or Tier 2, depending on factors like how long they’ve been producing solar panels and how they’re known for quality, service, etc.
We recommend Tier 1 solar manufacturers because their solar panels must meet higher standards, like a stricter manufacturing process, and have longer warranties. These companies also have solid reputations. Being able to trust that they’ll be here for the life of your warranty is critical.
2. The power warranty
We recommend solar panel manufacturers who offer a 25-year power warranty. They guarantee your solar panels will produce electricity at minimum 90% of their power output rating at year 25. This warranty covers your system output as a whole.
3. The product warranty
This warranty covers each individual panel. Most manufacturers offer 12 or 15-year product warranties. This means if an individual panel becomes defective during that period, it’s covered. After the warranty is up, you’re responsible for individual panel replacements or repairs.
4. Efficiency preferences
This decision really depends on your situation, goals and budget. The most efficient solar panels will cost a little more, but provide the most power production per square foot, which maximizes output when space is limited. If you’re not limited by space, slightly lower efficiency options may be more budget-friendly.
5. Solar panel cost
As with anything, your budget will play a role in your decision here. The things we’ve covered like manufacturer type, warranties, and efficiency will all impact the cost of the panels. Your installation type — roof-mounted or ground-mounted — will also be a factor.
The good news is your “per panel” cost effectively goes down the more panels you install. Fixed installation costs stay the same whether you install 2 panels or 20, so don’t hold back when deciding how many you want to install. Planning for your future energy needs now will save you the bigger expense of adding one or two panels later (after initial installation).
We hope this is obvious but it’s worth saying anyway. Solar panel kits can be hazardous, likely aren’t warrantied, and can cost far more in the long run. You wouldn’t buy a car in pieces and attempt to put it together yourself. Don’t do it here either.
Let certified installation professionals, like Baker Home Energy, help you choose quality solar panels and handle your system with the utmost care.