Installing solar panels on your home can be a good way to cut your utility bills and shrink your carbon footprint. A solar installation can provide a small boost of power during peak hours, store the power in batteries for nighttime use, or even provide you a store of electricity you can sell back to the utility company for a credit towards your bill. The first step in any solar installation is selecting the right panel for your needs.
1Output: Typically, manufacturers rate their panels by how many watts they can produce, but this does not tell the whole story. The amount of solar radiation any given panel can expect to receive throughout the day is variable, dependent on latitude and weather patterns. For instance, a 1-kilowatt solar panel installed in the Mojave Desert could easily produce 1,600 kilowatt-hours of energy per year, while one in the cloudy Pacific Northwest may generate less than half that amount. If you live in an area without intense, regular sunlight throughout the year, you may need a larger installation to provide enough power for your needs.
2Tracking Systems: For maximum solar generation, a panel needs to face the sun as directly as possible. This means that generation during morning and afternoon hours may not fully utilize the capacity of your solar panels. A tracking system can help boost this output, angling the panels to follow the sun throughout the day. These installations can be pricy and involve complicated equipment, however, and are best suited for those areas of the country with intense solar coverage to maximize the power generated.
3Warranty: Another important factor to consider when selecting a solar installation is the warranty. Solar panels can be an expensive investment, so you want your system to provide its savings for as long as possible to offset the initial cost. Weather and wear and tear can render panels inoperative or limit their output, so selecting products with a comprehensive warranty can save you a considerable amount in repair and maintenance costs. If you have your panels installed professionally, you should also consider the warranty on the installation work, as it might differ from the materials warranty on the panels themselves.
4Regulations and Subsidies: Before you select any panels or solar installations for your home, you should research your local regulations regarding solar panels. Some home owner associations may have restrictions on the type or size of installation you can install in your neighborhood, and your city may have its own rules on this type of home improvement. You should also be sure to take advantage of any federal programs offering tax subsidies or grants via the U.S. Department of Energy for solar installations, as these can help defray the costs of installation and maintenance.