Oct 25

7 Common Questions About Solar Power

Tyler’s Note: This is a guest post from Tom Becker from Money Choices, a personal finance site that allows you to compare interest rates. Take it away, Tom.

So you want to go solar, huh? There’s a lot to learn about the technology, so you might want to learn a thing or two from the people who know the most about it. Here are 7 questions that get asked a lot and their answers. Nothing scary, just good ol’ facts:

  • How the heck is electricity made from light? Long ago, scientists discovered that some materials give off electrons when exposed to light. Other materials absorb electrons when light shines on them. By fusing these materials together, an electric pump is formed that causes current to flow, providing electricity. Solar cells are made up of large areas of photovoltaic materials like this that generate power based on this property.
  • How efficient are solar cells? Scientists have measured the energy potential of sunlight at 1,000 watts for every square meter. Right now, the average solar cell achieves about 10% conversion (that means 900 watts get wasted), although some cells have achieved up to 30%. The challenge is to make solar cells more efficient in the way they convert light to electricity. Doing so will allow them to be made smaller for the same amount of power, or to made larger with much higher levels of capacity.
  • What size should my solar system be? A common question asked of solar power installers centers around the size and capability of the system. This is important because in order to qualify for government subsidies a solar power system must fall within certain parameters. A minimum amount of power must come from the cells, but a maximum limit is also stipulated. Presumably, these specifications are put into place to keep homeowners from pocketing a profit from a tax rebate for low-end systems and to prevent them from selling surplus power generated by high end systems. Be sure to find out what the specific rules are that govern your installation.
  • Why can’t I get 100% of my electricity from solar? Solar technology is still very expensive. In fact, the cost is so high that the market cannot support it because the return on investment is too low. Your solar panel installer will help you balance the cost of your system with tax supported rebates to optimize the return on your investment. For example, you can maximize your financial benefits from solar cells by using them to reduce your power requirements during times of peak demand when electricity comes into your home at the highest price.
  • Where will the solar cells go? Your installers will review your home and the surrounding area to see where the best place for your solar system is. Roofs are often a preferred place, but before you give the go-ahead for installation, have your roof checked for structural integrity and load-bearing capability. Trees are often a problem, so be sure to choose a place that is as free of shade as possible to maximize the time your solar system will generate electricity.
  • How long will the solar cells last? Right now, solar power systems are projected to last for about 25 years. Based on the life of the product and its cost, you can calculate how much you’ll pay for power over that time period. To see if solar is a good deal for you, compare the price of system to your public utility bill. With tax subsidies, your cost per kilowatt should always be less than what you pay for power from the grid.
  • How do I know what I’m actually getting? Get detailed descriptions of all proposed solar power solutions from your installers so you can have a basis for researching the products on your own and be ready to compare the different proposals to find the one that is a best fit for you. All solar power equipment is not equal, so doing your homework before you sign the deal will help you get the most for your money.

These are 7 of the most common questions asked when dealing with solar power. Be sure to ask these and any other questions you might have to your installer so that you can make the most informed decisions as you adopt this exciting new technology into your own home.

Tom Becker works as a writer for Money Choices where you can compare interest rates. He writes regularly on the subject of managing your money.