Solar Panels for Home

So you understand the great benefits of solar – but how does the technology actually work? Check out this next section of our starter guide for choosing solar panels for your home.

How Home Solar Works:

  1. Your solar panels convert sunlight to DC electricity.
  2. Your inverter converts DC electricity to AC.
  3. Electricity is used to power your home.
  4. Extra electricity is sent to the utility grid for a credit, or to your battery if you have one.

How Solar Panels for Homes Work

From our blog:

What are the key aspects of solar for my home?

The basics of home solar are pretty simple. There’s just a few things you need to be familiar with to understand how to set up a proper system.

Net Energy Metering and Solar

Net Energy Metering (NEM) is the policy that allows you to push and pull energy to and from the grid through your electrical meter. Traditional utility users pull energy from the main grid, use the energy in their home, and the meter counts how much is used. With solar, you will push your excess energy into the grid during the day and pull it out at night to use for lights, TV, A/Cm or anything else you may need.

Grid Tied Solar

After you put solar panels on your home, you will still be connected to the grid. This is so you can take advantage of NEM to maximize the value of your system. Essentially the grid functions as a bank storing your energy from your solar panels until you are ready to use it. With a battery backup system and secure power supply, you can use the energy from your system when the grid goes down.

Net Energy Metering Credits

If you don’t use all the energy your system produces in a day, that energy will roll over to the next day and so on. This happens day after day, month after month. This allows you to use all the energy you produce with your solar system. If you have higher usage months (AC, guests, holidays, etc) you draw from the extra energy credits you earned earlier in the year.

Solar True-Up

Once a year you “true up” with your utility where you settle the balance on your energy credit. If you consume more than you produce then you’ll pay the utility for the excess energy you pulled from the grid. If you produce more energy than you consume, the utility will compensate you for your excess energy at a below-retail rate.

From our blog:

What are the key pieces of equipment for home solar panels?

Here are the most important equipment components to the standard solar panel system for your home.

Solar Panels

Solar panels are modular pieces, usually rectangular in shape – approximately 3’ by 5’ long — primarily made of silicon, aluminum, and glass.

They vary in size, electrical output (measured in Watts), efficiency, and even color (most solar panels have either a black or silver metallic frame, and the cells will usually appear a dark blue or black in the light.)

Solar panels can be mounted to a home or building’s roof structure, or installed on a ground-mount racking structure like the standalone SmartFlower. The panels contain silicon cells that when exposed to sunlight, create a flow of direct current electricity or DC. Check out our full-length guide on how to find the best solar panels for your home.

Keep in mind: When thinking about where to locate solar panels for a home, it’s important to consider factors that will affect the system’s energy production (measured in kWh). In the Northern Hemisphere, facing south is typically ideal.

From our blog:

Solar Inverter

When you put solar panels on your home, you’ll also need inverters.

Inverters converts (inverts, technically) the direct current electricity produced by the solar array(s) into usable alternating current, or AC electricity.

There are several different types of inverters a solar installation might employ. String inverters are the simplest, most mature inverter technology, in which the DC from groups of solar panels linked in series are fed into the inverter. The inverter puts out AC electricity which is then fed to the home’s electrical infrastructure.

Micro-inverters are small, modular inverters that are furnished behind each solar panel in an array (1:1) and effectively compartmentalize the AC energy production of each panel so that the reduced production of one panel does not affect the output of the entire system.

Keep in mind: Some inverter companies such as SolarEdge offer power optimizers, which essentially act like micro-inverters on a string-array.

From our blog:

Solar Monitoring System

It’s important that every residential solar system has a monitoring system. This is the system that will allow you to view and measure real-time and historical energy production data of each solar panel on your home.

Some monitoring systems display this energy production data via a physical display unit, while others employ an online interface, or both. As “smart” or connected homes become more prevalent, solar installers can provide whole-house energy consumption monitoring as well.

In order to ensure your solar system is producing energy normally, it’s important to make sure your solar panels are paired with an energy production monitoring system.

Keep in mind: Solar.com will audit your monitoring system FREE of charge to ensure your solar array is producing what it should.

From our blog:

Solar Mounting and Racking System

A racking system is the structure on which your solar panels will be mounted to your home’s roof structure or on to the ground. While some racking systems may vary in their look, they exhibit similarities in their form and function.

It’s important to make sure your racking system, if roof-mounted, is properly flashed and sealed to ensure your roof is well-protected against the elements. Roof racking systems vary slightly depending on the type of roof.

Keep in mind: On flat roofs, a ballasted racking system can be used which requires no roof penetrations.

From our blog:

What are the important aspects of planning my solar project?

Now that you understand the key factors for solar pricing and equipment, it’s time to share the important aspects to planning your solar project.

This includes:

  • Choosing the right installation company
  • Reviewing the solar contract and warranties
  • Understanding the process of solar installation
  • Making sure you properly maintain your system once it is fully installed

Solar Installation Company

When considering your installation company, it is important to know their number of installations, their locations, their bankability, their online reviews , and most importantly, our internal rankings.

You will also want to strongly consider the length of their workmanship warranty. Workmanship warranties cover roofing penetrations, water damage, electrical work, and anything related to their installation for the time period described.

You’ll also want to get references and testimonials from their past customers. Solar.com provides this information and more for every installer in our network.

From our blog:

Solar Installation Contract

Contracts can often be overwhelming and packed with a lot of legalese.

There are a few key areas of the contract that you should confirm are accurate:

  • Progress payments (how much you pay and when)
  • Any additional line items (service upgrades, EV chargers, buried lines)
  • Detailed warranty information
  • Cancellation clause
  • System’s first year production estimate
  • Hardware specifications

Taking a few minutes to review these items can enure a successful installation of solar panels on your home.

From our blog:

Solar Warranty

A professional, licensed solar installation company will provide an installation or workmanship warranty in addition to the warranties provided by the equipment they install (panels, inverter(s), optimizers, monitoring, racking system, etc).

As for the equipment, most solar panels come with a performance warranty lasting 25 years. The performance warranty guarantees that a panel’s output capacity will not drop by more than 0.7% per year, or less than 20% over 25 years.

This means that your system is warrantied to be at least 80% as productive 25 years after it is installed. This degradation rate can range from about 0.4% per year for modules from companies like SunPower, to about 0.9% per year for others, but 0.7% per year is the industry standard.

From our blog:

Solar Installation Process

The actual installation of a solar panels on your home typically takes only a day or two. First, the materials are brought to your house as the crew of 3-5 workers arrive.

Next, standoffs are installed on the roof, then flashings. Rails are then installed and the solar panels are attached to the rails, conduit is run for the wiring, and the system is then tied-into the main service panel. City inspection is then scheduled by your solar installer.

After your city approves the system, the installation company then applies for permission to operate from the utility, which can take 1 – 4 weeks depending on the utility and volume of applications. The installation company will then switch on the PV system, set-up the monitoring system, and then you are good to go!

From our blog:

Solar Panel Maintenance

Solar PV systems require almost zero maintenance. The rain should be sufficient to clear off the dust and dirt on your panels, but you could do no harm by hosing of your panels every 2-3 months at the most.

In areas that receive snowfall, snow shouldn’t be a major problem. Panels will still receive sunlight through the snow and heat up, causing the snow to slide right off.

When purchasing solar panels for your home, maintenance is on the homeowner. Your workmanship warranty will cover labor to service or replace any hardware if it cannot be fixed remotely. Studies have shown that this is unnecessary for most tilted arrays. Be wary of these ‘maintenance packages’ as they are often overpriced.

From our blog:

The sooner solar panels go one your home, the sooner you save!

Solar panels are a means of creating clean, cheap energy and saving tens of thousands in energy costs over the life of the system. But that savings can’t start until the solar panels are on your home.

Start your project with multiple quotes from vetted installers.