Solar Panels 101

solar panels

Solar panels allow ordinary people to harness the nearly limitless power of the sun to power their lives in a clean way that does no damage to the planet. The more people who use solar panels to create electricity for their homes, offices, and even automobiles, the better it is for the planet.

Most of today’s solar powered home use a combination of solar power, during daytime hours, and grid-tied electricity to power their homes at night when the sun is done. This can provide a unique benefit to homeowners who have solar power in that extra power that isn’t used in the home during the day flows back into the energy grid as excess power resulting in your meter running backwards. This reduces the energy costs to you at night, and may result in rebates from the utility company rather than a monthly bill for frugal energy consumers.

Those who are not tied into the electrical grid must rely on a combination of direct solar power during the daytime hours and batteries to store energy that isn’t used during the day for use at night.

How do Solar Panels Work?

According to Dow Corning, the sun produces enough energy in one hour to power the entire Earth for one year. The problem is converting the light from the sun’s rays into energy that can be used by the public. That’s where solar panels come into the picture. Solar panels convert the light from the sun into energy with no emissions or byproducts.

Most solar panels are made with silicon because of its photovoltaic properties. When the sun’s rays come into direct contact with the panels, those rays are then converted into DC (direct current) electricity. The sunnier the day, the more energy is generated. Once generated the electrons created flow from the panel into an inverter, which converts the electricity into AC (alternating current) power.

AC power is the type of power used to power your home and all the wonderful devices and tools it holds. From your television to your hair dryer and most points in between.

You will need a bi-directional meter for your home in order to keep track of the energy your unit generates. Solar energy that isn’t used immediately is sent into the power grid. Then, when it’s dark outside or on cloudy days when you’re not producing sufficient electricity for your home, the extra electricity will be credited towards your energy bill.

It’s very much like the electric company is storing the excess for you so that you can use it when you need it. Sometimes you will generate a great deal of electricity and over the course of a month will use less than you generate. On these months, the local electric companies may end up sending you a check.

On cloudy months or winter months when days are short, you may use more electricity than you generate. On these months you will receive a bill for the shortfall. It will still be considerably less than before you installed your solar panels.

Tax Credits and Rebates

The other benefit of using solar panels, for those interested in saving money, is the fact that you may qualify for tax credits and/or rebates for doing so.

The federal government, in an effort to promote the installation and use of solar panels, offers a tax credit of up to 30 percent of the costs of installing an energy Star-approved system before the end of 2016. A tax credit is better than a tax deduction as it deducts the amount directly from your tax payment rather than using it as a deduction from your taxable income. The tax credit is allowable for your primary residence, vacation home, and for existing or new construction structures.

In past years it was possible to roll the credit over for another year for those who have no tax liabilities. However, since the tax credit it set to end in 2016 it is not clear, at this point, if it will be possible to roll over beyond 2016. If the tax credit is extended, that may be possible.

Some states offer tax incentives, loans, or grants to encourage residents to install solar panels. The state of California offers a program to assist lower income homeowners purchase solar panels for reduced costs – or even for free. Combining state incentives with the federal tax credit makes solar energy more affordable for all. Combined with the energy savings solar panels provide, they are a real winner for homeowners.

Planetary Benefits of Solar Power

The biggest winner, though, when making the move to solar power, is the planet. More than two-thirds of the electricity generated in the U.S. alone burns fossil fuels to create. Fossil fuels are believed to be a leading factor in global climate change.

The benefits go beyond that, though. There are no emissions created in the creation of solar energy. It’s a natural, renewable source of energy. It generates no waste or pollution, and this means that families can breathe easier, literally, when using solar power. So can the planet.

Solar panels last decades, creating little waste to fill up landfills. It also conserves water. Water is used to create electricity. A lot of water. According to The Spectrum, 40 percent of U.S. fresh water is used to cool power plants. Unfortunately, most of them do not reuse the water. With drought so prevalent in places like California, making the switch to solar power can literally help conserve dwindling local water supplies.

For some, the decision to switch to solar power is born of a concern for the planet. They want to make a difference that can conserve precious resources for future generations. For others, the decision is more practical and immediate in nature. They are looking for ways to cut costs, and virtually eliminating electric bills is a great place to begin. When combined with additional efforts to curtail reliance on electricity, homeowners throughout the U.S. can have great success whatever their initial goals may have been.

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