Solar panels offer a clean, safe, and renewable alternative to energy produced from power plants. In addition to reducing harmful effects on the environment, solar panels are also a great way to decrease monthly energy bills. Several tax incentives are also offered to those who install renewable energy sources in their homes, making solar panels an increasingly accessible and reasonable investment. Begin the buying process by researching brands, products, and installation costs, and then start searching for solar panel systems that will match your particular energy needs.
What Are Solar Panels?
Solar panels are modules designed to absorb sunlight and convert it to electrical energy through a system of connected photovoltaic cells, also called solar cells. The word "photovoltaic" technically refers to the production of electricity from any light source, so cells are only called solar cells, and groupings of them only called solar panels, when they are used to convert natural sunlight. Solar cells function similarly to radio receivers by receiving and converting light waves into electrons. These electrons are caught by an electronic valve, and the frequency of light received by the unit is adjusted through the use of a tuner.
Modern solar cells are comprised of a photovoltaic core, usually silicon or a series of layers of multiple materials, applied to a semiconductor, or substrate. These cells are typically fragile and can be easily damaged. To protect them, glass is placed over the sun-facing side of the cells. This allows light through while keeping out moisture, and also eliminates impact damage from things like hail or debris that might be carried by the wind.
The efficiency of a photovoltaic cell is measured by the number of watts it produces in relation to its surface area. On their own, individual cells do not generate a significant amount of energy, and are consequently grouped and linked electrically to one another to form a solar panel. When multiple panels are linked together, they are called a photovoltaic array. Arrays produce large amounts of electrical energy, and are generally much less expensive to purchase at a per-watt level than single panels.
History of Solar Panels
The conversion of sunlight into energy has been studied since the middle of the 19th century, and the first actual cells were produced in the 1950s. Although early models were relatively inefficient in their conversion ability and expensive to use on a large scale, photovoltaic cells found popularity with space satellites as an alternative to battery power. The solar panels allowed spacecraft to remain in space for a much longer period of time and did not require significant changes to a satellite’s design to be effective. The use of solar cells in the space program paved the way for continued advances in photovoltaic technology. By the end of the 20th century, cost for solar modules had begun to drop measurably, as manufacturers developed more efficient technology and found ways to utilize less-expensive materials.
Modern manufacturers continue to seek improvement on their designs and lower costs for their materials. As reliance on solar energy rises, new companies continue to enter the market with original designs and theories, and costs for consumers subsequently drops.
Uses For Solar Panels
Solar panels have a number of applications, including their aforementioned use on satellites. Since the turn of the 21st century, they have increasingly been used to provide energy for homes, businesses, and manufacturing industries. Large solar panel arrays are constructed to provide energy for industrial parks and commercial districts, and the continued drop in cost of solar modules has made them popular with homeowners.
One downside to solar panels is that the amount of natural sunlight required for them to be effective is not available in all places. In climates where there is heavy rainfall and considerable cloud cover, the costs of purchasing and installing solar panels may not be worth the investment. On the other hand, solar power is excellent for its ability to provide energy in the face of power outages, and is also useful in remote areas that do not have wired electrical energy. Many homeowners also use photovoltaic devices as a way to heat their water, which can save a considerable amount of money.
Materials and Types of Solar Panels
Manufacturers continue to seek efficient material at lower costs, causing the physical makeup of solar panels to change over time. There are several favored materials used in the production of modern solar cells, though the size, weight, price, and efficiency can vary greatly between them.
Also called solar grade silicon, crystalline silicon is the most prevalent material used for the bulk of solar cells. This material is more efficient than others, though it can also be more expensive. Panels using crystalline silicon require a greater amount of material than other options, such as thin-film setups.
The use of thin-film solar cells allows for a reduction of the necessary photovoltaic material used in a solar cell. However, layering several different materials is not as efficient as the use of crystalline silicon. To compensate, thin-film panels tend to be larger than their silicon-based counterparts. They are also significantly heavier, as they require glass to be placed on both sides of the active material. There are three popular types of thin-film solar panels: amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium galium selenide. Of the three, cadmium telluride is often the least expensive, usually between 30 and 40 percent lower in price than the other two.
Choosing Solar Panels
Shopping for solar panels can sometimes be a difficult process. There are many variables to consider, and because investments in solar energy are often significant, it is important to choose a setup that will provide a long-term return for the money. Here are some important things to consider while shopping.
Expected Energy Usage
When choosing a solar panel setup, the first step is to determine the needs of the building that will use it. Examine utility bills from the past year to obtain an estimate of power usage through all seasons. If the solar panels are meant to supply all of the energy for a building, be sure to design a system that will be adequate. It may even be wise to invest in modules that can provide more energy than is needed.
For many buyers, the most important consideration when buying a solar panel is its price. The cost to purchase solar panels can vary greatly from one manufacturer to the next, depending on the quality and type of materials used in its construction. Buying the least-expensive solar panels available is not always the best choice, however, as their efficiency and lifespan may not be able to compete with more expensive models. One of the primary purposes of purchasing a solar panel is to reduce energy usage, so the efficiency of a solar panel should be strongly considered, in addition to its up-front cost.
Although most solar panels will list their projected efficiency rating, this number is often determined by tests conducted in highly controlled environments. Under the elements, the efficiency of panels can be quite different from expected or advertised percentages. Do research on specific panels to see how they compare with other brands and models. There is a large amount of data online that can provide efficiency reports for products in actual outdoor settings.
There are many tax incentives and credits for people who install renewable energy systems. These exist on both federal and state levels and are sometimes quite significant. Research applicable tax credits before installing a solar panel system to be understand how these work and how much they may be worth, as they can help ease initial concerns about cost.
The other important factor to consider is the cost of installation. Due to their size and delicate nature, most solar panels will require installation by licensed professionals. Independent contractors are available in most cities to perform this sort of work, and some hardware stores also have teams that offer home installation. It is wise to confer with professional installation companies before and during the purchase of a solar energy system, as they can recommend the devices that will be most effective for a particular setup.
When calling solar panel installation experts, be ready with information about the amount of energy required, as well as the dimensions and setup of the property. This will allow them to provide the most accurate information about setup and associated costs.
Find Solar Panels on eBay
To purchase solar panels, head to the eBay homepage. Open the All Categories tab and click on the Home & Garden link. From there, look for Home Improvement, followed by Electrical & Solar. You may browse item listings on this page, or continue to narrow the search by using the options on the left side of the page. Alternately, you can enter search criteria from any page. For example, to search all of eBay for solar panel products, set the menu option next to the search bar to All Categories, and type "solar panel" (without quotation marks) into the search field. eBay’s Customer Support can provide additional information on searching with keywords. You can also try creating a post on Want It Now, and eBay will send an email when a match becomes available.
Buy Solar Panels with Confidence
Inspect item listings carefully to be clear on the specific item being sold, as well as the shipping methods and cost. Most solar panels for sale are new, though you may still want to examine all available photos carefully. Most items on eBay offer a magnified view of the item next to its price in the item listing. Allow the cursor to hover over the image for a moment, and a new photo will appear, offering a detailed image of the object. Check for additional photos by scrolling down through the item listing. Don’t hesitate to contact the seller for more information or photos. Many sellers will be happy to answer any questions in order to ensure a positive transaction. For expensive items, check to see if the seller will insure it during shipping. Many sellers also offer return policies and money-back guarantees, so investigate the full listing before making a purchase.
Complete all purchases of eBay items through the bid and Buy It Now options. eBay protects purchases made through these options for the cost of the item plus shipping. Transactions completed through money transfer services like Western Union or MoneyGram are not covered by the eBay Buyer Protection policy, and can be unsafe when paying an unknown party.
Research the Seller
Feel confident in your purchase by researching sellers before making a purchase. Check their feedback rating and the number of completed transactions to see how other buyers have felt about the services and products they’ve provided. Those with an extensive transaction history and high ratings tend to be highly reliable sellers. Always be sure to leave feedback for a seller, good or bad, as it helps inform other buyers in the eBay marketplace. Positive feedback helps great sellers find new customers, so reward their effort with a positive rating. Before leaving negative feedback, check with the seller to see if a resolution can be reached.
Solar energy is a clean and efficient way to power homes, businesses, and even industrial sections. Improving technology and strong competition within the field continues to drive costs down and improve performance of solar energy modules. Although the upfront costs can be intimidating, there are federal and state-level tax breaks available, and the amount of money saved on monthly energy bills can add up quickly. Research manufacturers, products, and installation companies to be sure that your solar panel investment provides the most cost-effective and efficient solution for your needs, and begin enjoying the many benefits of natural, renewable energy.