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Can Solar Panels Save me Money?

A house with solar panels.
A closeup of a solar panel.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 December 2014
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In the short term, solar panels are very expensive, but in the long term, they can actually save money for their owners, sometimes a lot of money, assuming that the solar panels are installed and maintained properly. In fact, in some instances, a solar array can even generate money for its owners, creating a return on the initial investment.

The initial outlay of cash involved in a solar panel installation can be high, although the cost of solar technology is constantly decreasing. Before installing solar panels, homeowners and renters installing with the permission of their landlords should look into available subsidies and credits. Sometimes, tax credits or rebates are offered to people who install panels, and in other cases subsidies are available from the government or community agencies.

Another option is rental of solar panels. Some power companies and solar organizations offer solar panel rental, in which people pay a modest fee for installation and then rent the panels as long as they want to use them. Some of these programs are rent-to-own, allowing people to make the initial investment in solar panels over an extended period of time. Both of these options can help people save money from the start with solar panels.

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Once solar panels are installed and functioning, they will start to save money right away, because they will reduce demands on the electrical grid. Some people go entirely solar, disconnecting their house from the electrical grid or using panels to power a home which is outside an area covered by public utilities. In the case of homes which have no utility-supplied sourced of electricity, the savings are immediate, because otherwise very high fees would need to be paid to the utility to extend their coverage. Savings for homes with access to electricity from a utility will be spread out over time as people no longer need to pay electrical bills.

Some power companies allow for reverse metering, in which the electrical meter runs backward when solar panels are generating more energy than the house can use. In this case, the homeowners get a check at the end of the month for the energy they feed back into the grid. This also reduces overall demand on the grid, which can entitle customers with solar panels to special rebates or reduced fees for electricity when they need it.

For solar panels to operate efficiently, they need to be kept in good working order. It is important to clean them regularly to remove dirt and other materials which can obscure the solar array, and to angle the panels properly so that they catch the most light. As the seasons change, the panels should be rotated to get the most sun, ensuring that they as much exposure as possible. It also helps to use energy-efficient appliances which will make the most of the power generated by the solar array.

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GlassAxe
Post 3

@submariner- To answer your first question, tilting your solar electric panels to match your latitude in the spring and fall is the best way to maximize efficiency. In the winter, you should increase your angle by about 15 degrees. In the summer, you should decrease your angle by about 15 degrees. This basic rule of thumb will allow you to receive the maximum benefit from your photovoltaic system throughout the year.

highlighter
Post 2

@submariner- Part of the answer to your questions has to do with how solar panels work, and the rest of it has to do with something called air mass. Solar panels, like any other flat surface, will have the largest surface area in contact with light when its angle matches that of the light source. Think about holding a piece of paper to create a shadow. If you match the plane of the paper to the angle of the light, you will create the largest shadow. This shadow represents the amount of solar radiation intercepted by the piece of paper, same as a solar panel.

Air Mass on the other hand, has to do with the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the atmosphere. If the sun is directly overhead, it passes through less air mass to reach a point on the earth. If it passes through at an angle of say 23.45 degrees, then the zenith angle is greater, meaning that the sun has to pass through much more air mass to reach the same point. The atmosphere at this shallow angle will diffuse more sunlight than if the sun were directly overhead.

submariner
Post 1

How do I know what angle to set my home solar panels? Why does it even matter what angle I set my solar panels to? Isn't the sun approximately the same distance from the earth regardless of the angle of the earth's tilt? The tilt should only move a point on the earth a few miles from the sun, relative to the distance from the sun to the earth, every season. I cannot see this short distance having such an effect on the amount of solar radiation hitting the earth. How does it affect the efficiency so much?

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