How to Choose the Best Solar Panels for Your Home - Without Getting Lost in Technical Specs!
Your solar purchase should be as simple and clean as the energy it provides. No matter where you’re located or which solar installer you work with, there are three keys to choosing the perfect solar setup:
- Decide on your priorities and budget.
- Find the highest-quality system that meets your needs – without exceeding them.
- Work with an installer you trust.
1. Decide on Your Priorities and Budget: Solar Energy Savings or “Off Grid” Solar Backup System?
All high quality solar installations will provide clean energy. Beyond that, ask yourself what you want out of your solar energy solution: Are you focused on your overall budget and electrical savings? Or are you looking to build a fully “off grid” solar panel system with redundancies and battery backups for emergencies? There’s no wrong answer to this question! A system with multiple failsafes and backups will cost more, but if your priority is solar panels that can power your house for long periods of time if your electrical grid goes down, then spending a little extra cash to install them makes sense. If you’re primarily getting into solar for the green energy savings, then you’ll want to choose a durable but budget-friendly system that provides both long term supplemental power and short-term emergency power for your home during minor electrical outages. If all that already seems complicated, just think of it as the difference between buying a commuter car vs. an off road vehicle – different uses, different price tags.
I’ve heard there are solar panel grants for homeowners? How do I get a grant to install my solar panels?
There are tax credits and incentive programs available across the United States to help homeowners switch to renewable energy!
The Solar Investment Tax Credit for homeowners is currently available until 2034, and your solar system doesn’t even have to be connected to the electrical grid for you to claim this credit – as long as your system powers your home! Read more at: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/homeowners-guide-federal-tax-credit-solar-photovoltaics.
For state-based lists of renewable energy initiatives and rebates, you can visit: https://www.dsireusa.org/
The above incentives and solar panel rebates can help you save money on your solar system so you can save money with your solar system.
2. Find the Highest Quality Solar Energy System That Meets Your Needs…Without Exceeding Them
Quality in solar systems is a balance of efficiency, durability, and cost/warranty.
How efficient should my solar panels be?
Solar panel “efficiency” is the percentage of the sunlight energy that hits the panel that actually gets converted into electricity. Like your sunglasses can block a portion of the sun’s rays, your solar panels convert a portion of the sun’s energy. The better the panel design, the more sunlight gets turned into usable current. As solar technology improves, panels get better at converting more of the sunlight they receive. As of 2022, most solar panels convert about 15-18% of sunlight energy into electrical energy. A panel with less than 15% efficiency is considered below average. A panel with more than 18% efficiency is above average! The current average of 15-18% is more than enough to power most homes and provide significant electrical savings.
How do I know if my solar panels are durable enough?
Quality solar panels are made to last 25 years or more (more on warranties in a minute). Manufacturers weather-test panels for rain, snow, and temperature swings, although it will be up to you as the homeowner to make sure nearby trees are kept trimmed to avoid overhanging branches falling on and damaging your panels. Look for a manufacturer with good reviews who is offering an industry-standard or longer warranty on both the panels and the inverter.
How long of a warranty should I get on my solar panels? What about installing my solar panels on my roof? …And why are these two questions connected?
As a homeowner, you already know how to go searching for a good warranty. But here’s the thing about solar panel warranties – it won’t do you any good to hunt down the best 25-year warranty for your solar panels if your roof only has a 15-year warranty! If you are planning to install your solar panels on your roof, do this first: Check how much time is left on your roof warranty. Have a professional assess the condition of your roof and determine if it needs repairs before you install your solar panels. Many roofing companies will actually coordinate their work with your solar installer’s team so you aren’t paying for more labor than your project requires. Then make sure you have a solar warranty that matches your remaining warranty on your roof, so that when it comes time for replacement, you can save on labor and construction costs by replacing everything at once.
If we’re talking specific numbers, 25 years is the current industry standard for solar panel warranties. Different parts of your system – like different parts of your car – might have different warranty lengths. String inverters typically have a 10-year warranty, while microinverters (more expensive) usually have a 25-year warranty like your panels.
Hang on a sec: You said this wouldn’t get technical – what’s a microinverter?
We believe in making the technical simple. A solid solar decision shouldn’t require you to be an engineer, but there are a few solar panel basics you should understand when you talk to an installer:
Solar panels work by taking sunlight energy and converting it into DC (direct current) power. An inverter takes that DC from your solar panel and turns it into AC (alternating current) power – the type your local electrical grid can actually use. If you’re not big on electrical science, think of it like three different languages – your inverter “translates” so that your power company can receive the power from your solar panels in a “language” it understands. The two primary inverter options are string inverters and microinverters.
How do I choose the best solar inverter for my solar panel setup?
If you have a simple solar setup where all of the panels are in direct sunlight that stays pretty even throughout the day, you’ll likely want to go with a string inverter. String inverters act as a single point of “translation” – you can remember the name because they “string” the DC power from all of your solar panels together, then convert it all at once and send it over to your electrical grid as AC power. They’re also a little cheaper than your second inverter option. String inverters are often combined with power optimizers that help “condition” the DC power by adjusting the voltage, making it easier and more efficient for your inverter to translate. If it helps, you can think of power optimizers as the “volume control” for each solar panel – they aren’t actually translating the current, but they are making sure it isn’t too “loud” or too “soft” for the translator (the main inverter) to translate quickly.
If you have a more complex solar setup where your panels are partially shaded, or some panels had to be installed at less-than-ideal angles, you’ll probably want to consider using microinverters. You know those fancy cars with the traction control systems that can control and power each wheel individually? Microinverters are like that, but for your solar panels. Your microinverters are attached directly to each solar panel, and they “translate” for those solar panels individually. Why does this matter? In a partly shaded solar system, a string inverter will average the power available from all of the solar panels – meaning that if some panels are partly shaded, they will lower the average power available to your home. Microinverters, on the other hand, will pull as much power as possible from the higher-performing panels first, ensuring that the partly shaded panels don’t lower your overall available power average.
The bottom line? If you’ve got great sunlight coverage and a simple install, you probably don’t need to shell out for microinverters. On the other hand, if you want a top-of-the-line efficiency-optimized system or you have a partially shaded or less-than-ideal panel location, the extra cost might be offset by the improved efficiency.
How do I know if my solar system will meet my home’s energy needs?
A good solar panel installer should be able to guide you through the process of determining your home’s electrical needs based on your current usage, and suggest a panel and inverter setup best suited to your needs and budget. A great solar panel installer will also connect you with the best solar software program or solar management system to help you easily track your energy savings and meet your clean energy goals. Which brings us to our final step:
3. Work with a Solar Installer You Trust
As with every home improvement project, take your time and get quotes from at least three different solar installation companies. A reputable solar company will be licensed and insured, offer industry-standard warranties or better, use quality solar products (ask them what brand and check the consumer reviews), and will be willing to answer any questions you have about their contracts, pricing, process, or products. A truly great solar installer will go “above and beyond” by also offering the latest in solar management software to help you get the most out of your solar energy system. Great solar installers care about the long term solar energy savings and environmental impact of your project, and have enough confidence in the quality of their work to offer you a simple way to track the return on your solar investment.
As you step into your clean solar energy journey, remember that there is more help available on our blog – or, if you are ready to gather quotes from prescreened, reputable installers who use professional solar management software, drop us a line here and we’ll connect you with some of the best of the best.
Clean energy is for everyone, and it doesn’t need to be complicated. Decide on your priorities; choose an efficient, durable, and well-warrantied system; and work with a great installer who backs their work with data. Then make your solar choice with confidence!