Wednesday, 9 April 2014

What you need to know before you buy Solar Panels

Can I Get A Solar Panel System?

Before you decide to get a solar array there are a number of factors you have to consider as it can be a big deal. There are a number of things that have to be expertly evaluated before you can even consider putting panels on your roof.

First of all, some might have to come out and do a site survey. An engineer will climb up on your roof, take measurements, inspect to see if you have visibility to the south, and use this funky solar pathfinder device to determine the times of day that particular areas would be shaded.

Solar Path finder

They go to the four corners of where the solar array is going to be installed with the Solar Pathfinder, and with it point towards the south it has a series of marks on it and a glass dome which reflects anything that would be throwing a shadow. You basically look at the reflection and see what time of day the shadow might affect that spot. 

To get the most out of your panels you need to have them in a pin-point location to work efficiently as possible, you can't just bung them on any old place! Basically this means it must be facing south within about a 20 degree window. If they can’t point the panels in that direction, you might as well not do it because your solar generation drops dramatically. Same goes for shade. If you’ve got a building beside you, or trees that tower over the house, you’re done.

Even if your roof points south, and nothing’s blocking the sun you still need to have an engineering survey done to determine if your roof can bear the additional weight! Luckily, it only adds about 5-6 pounds per square foot of roof loading, so most roofs should be able to take it.

How Big of a Solar Panel System Do I Need?

To some extent figuring out what you need is narrowed down by how much room you have and cost. But you also need to take a look at your previous year’s electric bills, find out what your electric rates are, and research what the projected generation will be for the size of system you’re thinking about.

Here’s a site to let you calculateproduction for your location. Just pick your country and region  You’ll come up with an estimate that looks kind of like this:

Station Identification
51.15° N
0.18° W
62 m
Weather Data:    
PV System Specifications
DC Rating:
4.00 kW
DC to AC Derate Factor:
AC Rating:
3.08 kW
Array Type:
Fixed Tilt  
Array Tilt:
Array Azimuth:
Energy Specifications
Energy Cost:    
0.0752 pound/kWh


Solar Radiation
Can I Get A Solar Panel System?

Solar Panel System Tips and Tricks

Oh boy, there is a lot they aren’t telling you! For example, one really good thing is that these systems are mostly guaranteed for 20 years! What isn’t really talked about is that its the solar panels that are warrantied for that long, but the inverters are not. So when you’re doing your ROI calculations you need to include the fact that you’re going to have to spend more money somewhere in the middle of the life-cycle for changing out parts.
Sunny Boy Solar Inverter
Speaking inverters, I should explain that the reason you need an inverter is that the solar panels put out DC current. This is like the current that comes out of a battery. But houses use AC current. So the inverter takes care of the conversion. There are two different kinds of inverters that are currently in use.

Solar MicroInverters

Being dependent on one inverter can be inefficient, if they inverter goes down or has technical problems it means you won't be generating any electricity. An answer to the efficiency problem comes in the form of micro-inverters. Instead of stringing multiple panels together and putting them through one big inverter, micro-inverters are installed on every single solar panel. This allows each panel to contribute 100% of its production to the home, and if one fails it doesn’t affect the output of any others.

Choosing between Inverters and MicroInverters

Each type of inverter has its own benefits. While micro-inverters are more efficient, they are also more costly. It could also mean a lot more wiring that have to be mounted and routed. Yikes! Big inverters might weigh 140 pounds(ish), but they get mounted in one spot and with minimal wiring. They are also extremely reliable, having been around since the beginning of the industry.

Other Things To Keep In Mind

Another thing no one bothered to mention is that the roof on your house generally doesn’t last as long as these systems. So let’s say you have a 10 or 15 year old roof. There is NO WAY it’s going to last as long as the panels. What do you do then? If you have to do any work on the roof you have to deal with the solar array first. Although some companies do provide a service that in the event of your roof needs repairs they will take down the Solar Panels for you for a cheaper price than it would cost originally. If you are worried about this then I would advise to talk about this with a trusted company that will be willing to help you out e.g. the solar company that fitted the panels.

Who’s going to look after the system? And how? I advise to stay at home and participate during the install so you can learn how things are connected, and if something needed minor repairs you could do it yourself.If you have a pitched roof, you probably don’t want to be getting on it to service your panels. So make sure the company you choose has been around a long time so you don’t have to rely on service from someone else.

How Long Does It Take To Install A Solar Panel System?

The good news is that it only takes about a day to a couple of days days for them to be installed on your roof. The bad news is, that the answer isn’t that simple. After we did the site survey and worked out pricing and all that, we had to sign contracts. Those contracts had to get sent off for approval to the electric company because we were going to be tying into the grid. Meanwhile, you have to have the structural engineer come to the house to determine if the roof could bear the weight. All of those things can take weeks to complete. 

By the way, if you’re wondering if you can do all this yourself – the answer is no. Next question!

How much do Solar Panels cost?

Obviously Solar Panels range from country to country, region to region but, specifically in the UK (where I just so happen to be from) They are about £5,000-£10,000 but this all depends on the size, quality and quantity of Solar Panels you buy! A website that proved very useful to me was Solar Panel Quoter. They give you a lovely FREE quote from your region specifically and can give you a list of the top 3 companies in your area from their database, how convenient! 

Another thing before you are put off by the expensive price, you aren't JUST buying the panels themselves with that money. Its also for the install which is in itself a complicated process witnessing it for yourself you'll understand its worth every penny, just its a lot of pennies! 

Your pay back can easily be done over a simple spreadsheet, factoring in the months when the panels will be at either a low or high efficiency. It should be fairly straight forward but on average most solar panel systems make back their money in roughly in half their life times. Which means it is worth getting them, you just need the money to kick-start it! However, if you can afford to do it, it is also a form of insurance against the potential of sky-rocketing energy prices.

This should be about everything you need to consider before installing solar panels. If I have missed anything out or you have any queries, make sure to comment below!

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