Table of Contents
Welcome to the Wiki
Solar panels have been instrumental in democratizing power generation, equipping homeowners with the ability to take control of their utility bills. These opportunities make solar an excellent investment for those that want agency over their homes and lives (and the savings don’t hurt, either), but solar is a complicated subject, with both the core technology and financial incentives warranting additional explanation.
We created this wiki to help you understand the nitty-gritty details of solar power, from basic questions like “How does solar work?” to complex questions like “Why is solar power good?”
Our hope is this guide has everything you need, but if you have any other questions about solar you’d like answered, contact us, and we’ll help answer them.
The Solar Wiki
Welcom to the Solar Wiki! Below you’ll find answers to all of your burning questions about solar panels, installation service, incentives, and more. If there are any additional questions you’d like to have answered, give us a call.
The table of contents above will help you navigate between sections. Check back to this page often, as we’ll be updating it regularly with additional questions, new resources, and longer explanations for specific topics.
How Does Solar Work?
Solar energy is produced by a chemical reaction activated by the sun. Solar panels contain layers of silicon and a few other materials grouped in photovoltaic (PV) cells that absorb sunlight during the day. One of the layers is positively charged, while the other is negatively charged in a semiconductor wafer, creating an electric field within the solar panel. When the light from the sun hits a solar array, it energizes the cell and causes electrons to be knocked loose from the atoms inside the semiconductor wafer. The electric field then puts these loose electrons into motion, creating an electrical current.
The electrical current can’t power homes, so it needs to be converted. The current flows into an inverter, turning it from a direct current (DC) into an alternating current (AC), then runs to an electrical panel and flows through your home. Once the converted energy flows into your home, it’s distributed like a utility company’s conventional electricity. Any surplus solar energy an array produces will be sent to the grid, earning you credits on your bill. This process, known as net metering, dramatically lowers the cost of your utility bills, making solar panels an excellent investment.
Solar panels utilize photovoltaic (PV) cells, primarily composed of semiconducting materials, typically silicon. Silicon is the most widely used material in solar panels due to its abundant availability and favorable electrical properties. These PV cells comprise silicon layers with added impurities to create an electric field. When sunlight strikes the PV cells, the photons excite electrons in the silicon atoms, generating electricity. This phenomenon is known as the photovoltaic effect.
In addition to silicon, solar panels incorporate other materials to enhance their efficiency and durability. These include metal frames to provide structural support and protection, tempered glass to protect the PV cells from external elements while allowing sunlight to pass through, and encapsulation materials such as ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) to seal and protect the PV cells from moisture and other environmental factors.
Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic or PV cells, convert sunlight directly into electricity. They are the basic building blocks of solar panels used to harness solar energy for various applications. Solar cells are typically made of semiconductor materials like silicon that can absorb photons (light particles) and release electrons.
When sunlight hits the surface of a solar cell, the photons transfer their energy to the electrons in the semiconductor material. This process causes the electrons to become excited and break free from their atoms, creating a flow of electric current. By placing metal contacts on the top and bottom layers of the solar cell, the current can be captured and harnessed for use. That energy is then converted into usable electricity, which powers your home.
The amount of electricity produced by solar panels depends on several factors, including the panels’ size and efficiency, the installation’s location and orientation, and the amount of sunlight received. A typical solar panel system in a sunny region can generate between 250 to 400 watts of electricity per hour per square meter of solar panels.
To put that in perspective, a standard 6-kilowatt (kW) residential solar panel system, consisting of around 20 panels, can generate around 6,000 watts or 6 kilowatts of electricity under ideal conditions. However, it’s important to note that energy production can vary significantly based on weather patterns, shading, panel efficiency, and system maintenance.
Home solar systems are designed to maximize exposure to the sun. Solar energy contractors will use satellite imaging to determine the sunlight a roof receives daily, then create a system design that capitalizes on exposure. In the northern hemisphere, panels are typically positioned towards true south to receive sunlight throughout the day.
Once a house’s solar panel system has absorbed sunlight, a chemical process causes electrons to move around an electric field that the solar panel generates, which creates an electric current. The electric current flows into an inverter, which converts it into usable power for your home. You own the power you generate, so it reduces the cost of your monthly utility bills.
Solar energy is good because it’s affordable, helps the economy, and equips homeowners with the tools to take control of their energy bills. You’ll often hear about the environmental benefits of solar systems, which are great, but they’re only a fraction of the equation.
Solar is about ownership and agency in an area traditionally controlled by a handful of corporations for their direct benefit. By putting power back into the hands of consumers, solar is helping to change that system. As more people switch to solar, utility companies will be forced to make positive changes and infrastructure improvements to retain customers — and that benefits everybody.
Several significant rebates for solar panels can help homeowners save money on a system installation. The most prominent is the federal tax credit, which allows homeowners to deduct 30% of the cost of a home solar system from their yearly taxable income. Remember that sum isn’t a check — you won’t benefit from the credit if you don’t pay taxes.
Beyond the federal solar incentive, state and local incentives can further reduce solar system installation costs. When looking into the solar panel cost for your home, check with your installation company for more details about local incentives you may be eligible for. They can offer guidance about which rebate programs to apply for, helping you lower the total cost.
Solar Panels and the Weather
While it’s possible for hail to damage solar panels, it’s doubtful that it will impact your system. Solar panels are built to withstand harsh weather conditions, including hail, snow, and high temperatures. If harsh weather manages to damage your solar panels, the industry standard for warranty coverage — which virtually all manufacturers offer — covers damage for 25 years.
When you get solar panel quotes, ask for the specific warranty information for the brand of solar panels you have installed and if the installer offers any warranty. While the latter isn’t common, it can reduce the hassle if your solar panels are somehow damaged.
Solar panels give your house power at night, but they won’t be drawing any energy from the sun during that time. Solar can work at night in a few different ways, the most popular being net metering. Net metering sends your system’s excess power to the electric grid. Whenever that happens, you receive a credit applied to your bill. At night, you can draw from these credits (or the grid in general) to meet your energy needs, so you don’t have to worry about a blackout just because you turned on your heater while watching Netflix.
Solar batteries are another option for powering your home at night. The batteries will store your solar system’s energy throughout the day, then pull from that stockpile at night.
Solar panels can’t produce electricity without sunlight, but that doesn’t mean your power will go out after sunset. Most solar panel systems are tied to the electric grid, so they can still receive energy from utility providers if your panels are under-producing. You have to pay for the energy you use, but the cost is offset via a process known as net metering.
During the day, your solar system can overproduce electricity. That excess energy is sent back to the electric grid, and you receive a credit applied on your bill. You can also use these credits to cover the cost of the energy you use at night, keeping your utility bill low.
Solar panels work in the winter and are even more efficient in cold temperatures. The improved efficiency is due to the chemical process that causes solar panels to function. When the sun’s light hits a solar photovoltaic cell in a panel, the photons from the light will transfer energy to electrons in the cell. Those electrons then generate electricity.
In colder temperatures, like those found in winter, electrons are at rest. When the sunlight hits panels in cold weather, there’s a greater voltage difference, and as a result, the panel can produce more electricity.
Most solar panels will have a warranty-backed life expectancy of 25-30 years, though you should check with your solar installer on the specific term length and coverage for your system’s warranty. Solar panel installers often offer coverage for their systems, including workmanship guarantees.
Solar panels are incredibly hardy devices, built to withstand the full brunt of nature in extreme weather conditions. Snow, hail, and strong winds shouldn’t have any long-term effects on a solar panel’s production capabilities, though you should contact your installer if your energy generation is impacted after harsh weather.
Solar panels will not work during a power outage unless paired with solar battery storage. Solar panels are typically still tied to the power grid, so while they can generate electricity during outages, they must be disabled during shutoffs to avoid electrical hazards. Essentially, solar panels send excess energy back to the grid, which could lead to fires at times where the grid is incapable of distributing that power.
If you have a solar storage battery, the excess energy can be sent to it rather than to the electric grid. You’ll draw your electricity from your solar battery when the power goes out.
Solar panels themselves won’t cause roof leaks. However, if they aren’t installed properly they could otentially lead to roof leaks. Professional installers will take measures to protect your roof during installation, like using flashing and sealants to prevent water intrusion. Maintaining the panels and roof properly is crucial to prevent future issues.
Consult with a solar energy contractor to determine if your roof is a good fit for a solar panel array. They’ll help you determine whether your roof needs an update and walk you through the solar installation process.