Solar power has been widely available for many years now, but there's no better time to make the change than now. Did you know that at least 10% of residences in Australia are now powered by sunlight? Solar technologies have vastly improved since the early days, and the Sun's rays have proven to be an unlimited, reliable, eco-friendly, and free source of energy. Jumping on the solar energy bandwagon, however, requires buying and installing solar panels on your property - and that can be a daunting task if you're new to the game. Here are some things to know about solar panels before you spend a small fortune on them.
How Many Panels do I Need?
If you're considering making the switch to solar, wondering about how many solar panels for your house are necessary is completely valid. That number would mainly depend on the lifestyles of the occupants. A family that typically uses many electronic devices on a daily basis will likely require more solar panels than a family that only uses power for necessities like light and heat. Then again, the number of panels required would depend on how much energy each one can produce given ideal conditions. Solar panels are not all made the same, and they all have different efficiency ratings. A better way to look at things is to ask how much energy you require to maintain your living standard and whether a specific solar panel system is large enough to meet those needs.
Think Overall System Size, Not Numbers
Instead of concentrating on how many solar panels you'll need, focus on the total system size measured in kilowatts. Today, most photovoltaic panels vary anywhere from 190W to 327W. As you can see, the number of panels you'll need depends on what type of wattage your panels have. If you utilize solar panels on the lower end of the scale, you'll need to buy more to meet your energy needs. If you use panels with higher wattage, you'll require less of them. If you choose to use a mix of panel types, you would have to sit down to do the math if you want to make sure that they can produce enough energy for your purposes.
Generally speaking, a 5kW solar panel system should be sufficient for a family of four living in a larger home. This type of system should be able to power most types of lights, a refrigerator, multiple standby appliances, multiple computers and TVs, washer and dryer, a dishwasher, and a central air system. Two or three friends living under the same roof could probably get by on a 3kW system capable of powering a fridge, large LCD TV, multiple standby appliances, energy-efficient lighting, a computer or two, washer and dryer, and a small air conditioning unit or space heater. A couple or individual should have no trouble going with a 1.5kW solar panel system. This size of system should adequately power efficient lighting, fridge, single TV and computer, one or two standby appliances, and washer and dryer with limited use.
Solar Panel Efficiency
The average Australian home consumed 7,070kWh electricity in 2009. Nearly 40% of that was used for cooling and heating, 25% for heating water, and 21% for powering appliances. That's a lot of energy use, so you'll really benefit from more efficient solar panels. You might hear people speaking about high-efficiency panels being better, but what does it really mean for a solar panel to be efficient? Efficiency refers to how well something can do its intended task. More specifically, solar panel efficiency refers to how much electricity that particular panel can produce compared to the amount of sunlight it must receive. Efficiency is displayed as a percentage, and most solar panels have ratings of 15% to 20%. The percentage identifies how much of the sunlight hitting the panel actually gets transformed into usable electricity.
What Affects These Ratings?
There are a number of different factors that can influence how well your panel converts sunlight into electricity. The first is build quality. A poorly-designed panel made of cheap materials will not function correctly or last very long. Always buy renowned brands. Secondly, the placement of the panels makes a huge difference in how much energy they can generate. Experts say that south-facing panels generate the most electricity, so make sure that there is room for installation on south-facing exterior surfaces. Thirdly, the tilt of the panel also affects its efficiency. More energy is produced from direct sunlight exposure. Next, extreme temperatures can hamper solar panel performance. Finally, shade is the largest obstacle for solar panel efficiency. If you live in heavily-wooded areas, going solar might not be the best idea.
Choose Quality over Quantity
When it comes down to making a decision, you'll almost always do better to go with more resourceful solar panel - if you can afford them. If you can help it, buy panels that have ratings of 250W or higher. In addition to being able to convert more sunlight into electricity, running higher wattage panels can save you a ton of space since you'll need less of them. People who own smaller homes definitely need to take efficiency into consideration since they don't have much roof and exterior space to work with. The most trustworthy suppliers of quality panels are reputable manufacturers and dealers that have been in the business for many years.
What to Ask Your Providers
Before buying solar panels or getting a system installed, make sure to ask about: the brands of components used in the system, whether or not upgrading the system at a later time is an option, how much energy you can expect to get from the system, how much the initial deposit will cost, how long the installation will take, whether or not the installers are certified, and whether or not there are any promotional deals currently available.