If you’re thinking of living off the grid, good on you! It’s surprising that more people aren’t relying on solar panels for their main source of electricity, seeing as how residential-grade solar panels are increased in quality and decreased in price.
In this guide, we’ll show you the best solar panels for the home are, as well as how to shop for the best panels available.
Solar Panel Buying Guide
In the following sections, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about solar panels—solar panel types, how they work, why you should consider getting them, and so on. At the end, you should have all of the information you need to make an educated purchase decision based on your home and family’s needs.
Types of Solar Panels
Solar panels fall into three categories: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. All tree solar panel types serve the same purpose: to turn sun beams into electricity. Many brands offer multiple types of solar panels, which can make finding the best possible solar panel array much more confusion. All of them are appropriate for home use, but here are their key differences.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels consist of bars of silicon that are sliced into “wafers.” The design creates a flow of electricity with plenty of space to move, making it more efficient than its polycrystalline counterpart. Monocrystalline solar panels are the more premium-grade of the two, both in terms of efficiency (how long it takes to convert sunlight into energy) and looks.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels, on the other hand, have lower efficiencies compared to monocrystalline. Manufacturers fuse fragments of silicon together through high heat and pressure to create the wafer-like panels. Due to the higher number of crystals in each panel, electrons are more constricted. Polycrystalline solar panels are great for those shopping on a budget and don’t particularly care about aesthetics.
Thin-film solar panels consist of a wide variety of elements, including silicon, copper, and cadmium. However, the silicon is not sliced into layers but rather sits on top of the plastic or glass layer as a non-crystallized sheet. This type of solar panel is the least efficient of the bunch, but they are the lightest and easiest to install.
What Is Solar Panel Efficiency?
Efficiency refers to the solar panel’s ability to generate power from incoming sunlight. Two panels with different levels of efficiency will store varying levels of power when given the same amount of sunlight within the same timeframe. In practical terms, a solar panel with 20% efficiency with the same surface area as a 15% panel will produce 25% more power in identical environments.
Pros and Cons of Solar Panels
If you’re thinking of living completely off the grid at home, we’d like you to think things through. Solar panels are great and all, but please keep in mind that they have as many downsides as they have ups. Let’s take a look at solar panels’ pros and cons.
1. Reduced Energy Bills
First and foremost, the reason why people even think of switching to solar panels is the benefit of reduced energy costs. Even if your home’s solar panels “only” provide up to 25% of your total monthly consumption, that’s quite a lot of savings over time. Also, depending on where you’re living, if you’re producing more energy than you’re using, you can get paid for contributing to the grid. The revenue potential varies from place to place, and it’s not something most people would even consider going, but we’re just throwing that out there.
EXPERT TIP: If you know how much energy your household uses during the daytime, it might be best to at least get a solar panel array that can cover this. The cost of electricity can spike during peak hours in the daytime (varies based on season and city/state/country), and to avoid accidentally paying a fortune in electricity, your solar panels can be your sole-source of daytime energy usage. Switch to on-grid electricity during the night when it’s cheaper.
2. Low-Cost Maintenance
Solar panels generally aren’t high-maintenance devices. As long as you keep them in an easily accessible place, or if you have a sturdy ladder that will allow you to climb up and down your rooftop at will, keeping the solar panels clean throughout the year shouldn’t be a huge issue.
The cable and inverter will also require a good looking-at from time to time to ensure nothing is out of the ordinary. On average, customers are able to enjoy more than a decade of low-cost energy from solar panels with minimal maintenance.
3. Harnesses Renewable Resources
Obviously, the benefit of using renewable resources—in this case, sunlight—to turn into high-quality electricity is another tremendous upside. As long as the sun is shining its happy rays onto the Earth, we’ll continue to receive sunlight. Might as well make the most of it while it’s still around.
Did You Know: Solar panels can protect your roof from the nature of Mother Nature. For instance, their sleek panels can allow rain droplets and snow to fall off much more easily. Customers have also reported that these panels have improved their homes’ insulation, reducing heating bills in the winter and AC usage during the summer.
1. High Upfront and Storage Costs
There’s no point in denying that individual solar panels are quite expensive. Yes, they’re an investment, but the upfront cost of purchasing and getting them professionally installed is what pushes many buyers away from solar panels. Also, if you don’t plan on using electricity as soon as you produce it—you know, like most people—then you’ll need to consider getting large-capacity batteries for your panel system.
Did You Know: Some governments offer incentives to homeowners in the form of rebates for switching to solar panels. Consult your local government’s regulations and policies regarding what sort of rebates (if available) you’re entitled to getting. Some places even get 50% off purchase and installation costs!
Did we mention that solar panels convert sunlight into electricity? Multiple times? Well, that’s important to know since without sunlight, solar panels are nothing but fancy panels you place on your rooftop. If it rains or snows, if there are clouds blocking the sun, and when it’s nighttime, your solar panels are doing little to nothing.
3. Takes a Lot of Space
Solar panels take up space. Granted, individual panels are tiny relative to the size of most rooftops, but if your family consumes more electricity on average, you’ll need to install more solar panels.
PRO TIP: Just because it can take more than 5,000 panels (obviously an exaggeration) to fulfill 100% of your household electricity consumption needs doesn’t mean you have to invest in 5,000 panels. Covering even 10 or 15% of your electricity needs with solar panels will help alleviate electricity bills by a sizable chunk, and the savings undoubtedly add up over time.
Shopping for a Solar Panel: Important Considerations
Here are a few things to keep in mind while shopping for the best possible solar panel setup for your home.
One of the first things you need to keep in mind is the solar panel’s output rating. This rating, expressed in watts, determines how much energy it can product. The higher the wattage rating, the more sunlight it converts into electricity. See how much electricity your household uses every month to get a good idea of how many solar panels you need and at what output rating.
For most shoppers, their budget is the main factor that decides which solar panel make and model to get. Panels come in a variety of sizes; full-sized panels can provide anywhere between 275 and 350 watts, but there are smaller options for particular off-the-grid applications.
To truly determine the cost per watt ratio, find the price of the potential solar panel you want and divide it by its max wattage output. That will provide a truer pricing number that you can use as a reference point when comparing against other models.
The efficiency rating, as described above, will indicate how much sunlight it converts into electricity. The average range for residential solar panels is between 14 and 22%, though some models push it to 23% for a higher upfront cost. Please keep in mind that decimal difference can mean a lot in the long run. For instance, even though the difference between a 17.3% and a 17.59% is minute, over the years, the latter is producing more kWh than the former.
Temperature has a tremendous impact on the solar panel’s output. The temperature coefficient—another performance rating to keep an eye out for—measures how much efficiency is lost for every degree (in Celsius) above or below testing conditions.
For instance, if the panel was tested in 40°C conditions, the outdoor temperature of your home is 50°C, and the temperature coefficient is 0.5%-watt power (Wp), then the 10°C disparity multiplied by the 0.5% Wp figure equals 5% efficiency lost due to excessive heat.
Manufacturers typically offer two types of warranties for their products: performance and workmanship.
Performance warranties guarantee that your solar panel will operate above their efficiency rating throughout the length of the warranty. After the initial warranty has expired, the manufacturer also guarantees between 80 and 90% work efficiency for 10 to 25 years afterward.
Workmanship warranty refers to the product’s construction, or, in other words, how well-built the solar panel is. These warranties generally last up to 10 years, but some newcomers looking to attract more customers may offer up to a two-decade workmanship warranty coverage.
UL, or Underwriters Laboratories, has been around for roughly a century now. Their safety and performance standards are a credible rating to ensure a product, such as a solar panel, is safe to use at home. Make sure that the solar panel has a UL1703 certification; this deems the panel safe to install on the ceiling of your home.
CAUTION: There are cheaper alternatives out there—some of which that do not bear the UL1703 certification. We absolutely recommend staying AWAY from these budget-friendly options since they may emit for electromagnetic radiation that can cause a series of health problems, one the most extreme of which is skin cancer.
1. Are solar panels worth it?
Indeed, they are. Granted, their upfront and installation costs can be daunting to some, but the investment will pay off eventually. Also, considering solar panels can survive for more than a decade or two while providing near-peak performance during its later lifecycle stages, you can enjoy basically-free electricity from the investment you made years and years ago!
2. Will my solar panel system work at night?
Night, rain, snow, overcast—these are all things that either reduce or stop solar panel activity. If you didn’t receive enough sunlight to power your home during the night, then you’ll need to switch back to your utility provider. We recommend switching back and forth—solar for the day, grid for the night—to reduce electricity costs.
3. What should I do during a power outage?
As long as you have a high-capacity battery that’s connected to your home’s central electrical system, then hope is far from lost. These batteries can store plenty of juice to power multiple appliances during the duration of a power outage, assuming it’s only for a couple of hours or a day at max. Like operating a home generator, just be mindful of how much stored energy you use during emergencies.
4. How many solar panels do I need to run my entire house?
On average, the typical homeowner will require around 30 rooftop solar panels to cover 100% of their energy consumption daily with a bit of surplus for just-in-case scenarios. However, only you can determine how much you need. Measure your household’s daily energy consumption in watts, see how many panels it takes to cover this figure (plus an additional 10 to 20%, just in case), and you should have a good idea of how many panels you need to install.