How exactly does solar power work? Can I install it myself? What about used panels? Where does an electrician fit into all of this?
Solar options raise a lot of questions. Since solar power is an investment, doing your research before committing is a good idea. Before diving into solar energy for your home, read this advice from our partner Jacob Mintz, certified electrical engineer and solar power expert.
Solar Power Background
Home Solar Systems are energy converters. Sun radiation hits the solar electric panels and the solar panels convert the sun radiation (stream of photons) to DC electrical power (stream of electrons). Since home appliances work on AC power, a DC to AC solar power inverter is sandwiched between the solar panels and the home power main. For more background, view my home solar power systems page.
Avoid DIY Solar Panels and Used Solar Panels
The “make your own panels” pitch can seem attractive. Unless you enjoy and are experienced with DIY projects, there is a chance the panels won’t be installed properly, which can be a hazard to you and your family.
Modern solar panels are mass-produced in very sophisticated production lines and each panel is tested before it is shipped. The panels can last over 20 years and withstand exposure to the sun and elements.
Every panel loses some portion of its electric generation capability for every year in service (0.5% or so), therefore if one buys used panels that were in service, he knowingly buys less potent panels.
The strongest argument to buy new solar panels from a reliable source is that the US government and various states allow federal and state energy tax credits only to new panels and new equipment. The federal (IRS) tax rebate is 30% on the equipment, installation and commissioning. In California a homeowner is eligible for a 45% rebate, federal and Cal state combined.
Use a Solar Contractor
A solar contractor has experience installing solar systems and can be a reliable advisor on good equipment and installation. In most cases you can get a post-installation warranty. Get more than one proposal, that way you can get a better price. However, don’t only choose the lowest price. If one contractor is much lower than the other quotes, it is possible they will cut corners and use shoddy materials. If some neighbors cooperate to buy and install together, better prices can be achieved.
A Certified Electrician is a Must Have
Home solar power systems are characterized by high voltages and high currents. If it is a grid-connected home, the solar system must be certified by the electrical utility.
In the case of an off-grid home with an off-grid solar system, for you and and your family’s safety, it is a must that the system is wired, grounded properly, and tested by a certified electrician.
About the Author:
Jacob Mintz is a veteran electrical engineer and an expert in solar systems. He used to work at Intel, consulting with large international companies. His involvement with Intel exposed him to the world of solar energy, and since then he has retired and dedicated his time to promoting the solar space. To learn more about Jacob, visit his “about me” page.