10 Most Common Questions About Solar Energy

On November 10, 2011, in Guest Posts, Recycling, by Deb Lee, Certified Professional Organizer®
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If you’re thinking about using solar energy, today’s guest author sheds light on what it takes to use solar power.

Solar energy has been a hot topic over the last few years, and more people are looking into using this source of power for their homes. After all, solar power is clean, renewable, and abundant in supply. All we need to do is learn how to harness this power more effectively.

There is a lot of misinformation about using the sun to create electricity, so this article will cover the top 10 most common questions people have about solar energy.

10 Common Questions About Solar Energy


1. Where is the energy stored for solar energy?

Even though the solar panels collect the energy created by the sun, they do not actually harness that power themselves. Each panel is made up of solar cells that are in series, and all the electricity is channeled to a power supply like a pack of large batteries.

These batteries allow power to be used at night or on cloudy days when there is not much sun. Every solar power system needs a place to store the energy, and as batteries become more efficient, this may become more cost effective as well.

2. Is there any maintenance required for solar panels?

Unlike other sources of renewable energy, solar power needs very little maintenance. This is in large part due to the fact that there are no moving parts on a solar panel like there are on a wind turbine.

The only breakable part of a solar panel — or the part that can be susceptible to damage — is the glass that covers the solar cells. This glass needs to be kept clear at all times so that the sun is not being blocked by dirt or pieces of debris.

Solar panels need to be inspected, especially after a storm, to make sure none of them have cracked, and that no tree limbs or dirt is covering them up. For those who live in areas with colder temperatures, it’s important to remove any snow that builds up on these panels. Not only will the snow keep the sun from reaching the solar cells, but the weight of the snow can damage the cells as well.

3. How do I clean solar panels?

Cleaning solar panels is a part of proper maintenance, the only maintenance they need. But, you need to be careful when cleaning the glass panels because they can easily crack if you step on them. There are special poles made with sprayers that will allow you to wash the panels while remaining safely on the ground. Using them will remove any dust and dirt that has gotten caught on the glass.

You should seek every safety precaution if you plan on doing this yourself — and especially if you plan on getting on the roof of your home yourself. There are solar panel cleaning companies that will actually do this for you so that is also an option.

solar energy

Solar panels on house roof” by Gray Watson User:E090. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

4. Where should I put my solar panels?

Most of the time, you will see solar panels on the roof of a house, but this may not be the best placement for your solar panels. If you live in the United States, you will want your solar panels to face south, as they will get as much sun as possible. But, if you don’t have a south-facing roof, you may want to find another location other than the roof of your house.

You should also consider things like shade and what the shade will be like 10 years from now. After all, trees grow and even though your solar panels may not be in shade right now, they might be in a few short years. You should also think about using a tracking kit so the solar panels will follow the sun as it goes through the sky, therefore maximizing how much power you can harness.

5. How many solar panels will it take to power my whole house?

This is a very common question for people considering using solar power at home. A large factor in how many solar panels you will need depends on the kind of solar panels you are getting, which we will cover in another question. First, it’s very possible to power your entire home with solar power, but it’s going to take some money.

The average home uses almost 9,000 Kilowatts a year, according to the US Energy Information Agency. This works out to about 24 Kwh every day, being 24,000 watts. With only limited sunlight during the day, we need to produce 4,000 watts every hour. Using large solar panels that can produce 130 watts, you would need about 30 panels to create enough energy to stay off the grid.

There are some solar panels that can generate 200 watts per hour, meaning you would only need 20 panels. And still, there are solar panels able to produce 250 watts of energy. So, as these panels get more efficient you will need less of them to do the job.


6. What type of solar panels are the most efficient?

Although there are four types of solar panels, there are mainly two that are commonly in use. Amorphous silicon panels have been used for years, but only have an electricity return rate of about 5%. The much more efficient monocrystalline silicon panels have an electricity return rate of about 16-18%, but they are also much more expensive. Since the monocrystalline silicone panels are the most efficient solar panels on the market right now, they are very popular and are used in solar plant fields quite often.

7. How much does a complete solar panel system cost?

If you want to go completely off grid and never pay for electricity again, it will take quite a large investment. We already talked about the average home needing 20-30 solar panels to power the entire home, and with solar panels costing anywhere from $500-$750, the cost of the panels will be anywhere from $10,000 to $22,000. Of course, this does not include the cost of hiring professionals to install the panels correctly and buying a battery station to store all the energy as well.

solar energy

Oregon Department of Transportation (Installing solar panels Uploaded by Smallman12q). CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

8. Should I try to install a solar panel system myself?

After seeing the cost of solar panels, you might be thinking of installing them yourself. It’s important that you talk to your local building inspector first, and also that you hire an experienced electrician to make sure all the wiring is correct. Even if you know a lot about electricity, it’s a good idea to hire a licensed electrician, and in most states, it’s actually required.

9. How can I get solar grants from the government?

There are many grant programs and federal incentives for getting a solar power system. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will reimburse you up to 30% of the cost of installing a solar panel system, and there are many local programs that will help you pay for using solar energy to power your home. Each location is different so you will want to investigate the possible grants that are offered in your area. The Department of Energy’s website is a great place to see what grants are applicable to your situation.

10. How long should a solar panel last?

Most solar panel manufactures offer a 25 year warranty, but chances are you will not have to use it because they can last much longer than 25 years. And, that’s a good thing since it will take most people about 20 years before they see the solar panels turning a profit for them. There are reports of some solar panels lasting more than 40 years, but 25 years is a good average. If you keep your panels well maintained and cleaned, they should have no problem lasting long into the future.


About the Author

Jonathan S. is passionate about green technology. He writes about how to make solar panels at home and new advances in technology.

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