I’m writing this on a dreary Seattle winter day. We’re in day three of full-on winter drizzle.
So, it probably seems odd to be thinking about solar power systems, right?
Turns out I’m not the only one thinking about solar. Between 2019 and 2020, 400,000 American homes had solar systems installed on their roofs each year, according to the Solar Energy Technology Office at the US Energy Department. In total, approximately 3 million residential solar systems exist in this country.
More and more homeowners are interested in solar power, and for a diverse variety of reasons. For some, it’s simply financial — they’re tired of high electric bills.
Others want independence from a system they fear could fail (you remember the power outages in Texas in the fall of 2021, right?).
And for many, there’s a desire to reduce their carbon footprint and be good environmental stewards of the planet.
Regardless of why you have an interest in solar power systems, there are likely lots of questions on your mind. Let’s take a look at those from my research – as well as potential answers.
Q: How does a solar panel system work?
A: Multiple panels are wired together to create a single array. These panels the connect to your local power grid. When sun hits the array, that energy converts into electricity. The system is designed to “store” unused energy for you to use, and also allows you to sell excess energy back to the power company.
Q: Are all solar panels the same?
A: While they all operate in the same basic manner, panels differ in how much sun they can convert to energy. Not surprisingly, less expensive panels have the ability to convert less energy. Ideally, you want panels that are rated at 20%+ efficiency.
Q: Do the panels last forever or do I have to replace them often?
A: Panels will degrade over time; however, that should occur at a relatively slow rate. Over a 25-year period panels should retain 75% to 90% of their efficiency.
Q: Does solar make sense in a city where it’s not sunny all the time?
A: That depends on a number of factors. But it’s true that you don’t need to live in the sun belt to take advantage of solar power systems. Obviously, you’ll generate the most energy on sunny and clear days; however, even the winter’s shorter days or days when it’s raining or snowing can generate energy via solar panel systems.
Q: Can panels be installed on steeply pitched roofs, or on a house where the yard has lots of trees?
A: Solar panel systems work when a roof has good access to sunlight. If there are too many trees blocking the roof – and particularly if those are evergreen trees – solar panels may not be a good choice. Similarly, if your home is lower in height than your neighbors’ homes, and your roof is shaded by those buildings as a result, you may want to rethink solar panels.
Q: What is the ideal scenario for solar panel installation?
A: Regardless of what part of the country you live in, panels perform best on roofs which face south (although east-facing and west-facing roofs can also work). Roofs with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees are ideal.
Q: Can solar panels be installed on roofs in worn conditions.
A: While they can, they really shouldn’t be. Ideally, roofs would be less than 10 years old. The exception would be roofs made of tile, slate, or metal that have at least 10 years of life. Good roof condition is important because you don’t want to install, uninstall, and then re-install solar panels if your roof needs replacing. That’s costly, and it simply may not make good financial sense. *
Q: Can solar panels fail or break?
A: Because they are intended for outdoor use, solar panels are designed to withstand the elements. That includes hail, strong winds, and very heavy rain.
Q: What kind of maintenance do the panels require?
A: Very little. You don’t need to wash or clean them in any way (Mother Nature takes care of that with rain and snow). However, if you live in a very dry or dusty area you may need to occasionally have them cleaned.
Q: How much money can I save?
A: Only a knowledgeable expert can estimate these for you. While you may hope to offset 100% of your energy use (and that’s certainly a sales pitch used by some companies) that’s not a reasonable expectation.
Q: How much will it cost to install a solar panel system?
A: This question is best answered by an industry expert. The cost of your system will depend on many factors. As with any large home enhancement project, we always recommend you get a minimum of three bids from well-regarded local companies.
If you’re interested in learning more about solar panel systems, here are some helpful resources:
As always, we’ll hope you’ll reach out with questions. And if you’ve installed a solar panel system at your home, we’d love to hear about your experience!
*If you ask Merle, he’d say solar panels should never be installed on roofs!