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This book is written for you, the solar panel buyer. It’s divided into sections, each covering a part of the process of chhoosing a solar panel.
What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist • How to choose a good solar energy system • The different types of solar energy systems • The advantages and disadvantages of each type of solar energy system • What to look for when choosing a solar panel system • How to maximize your solar investment • Where to go to find information on costing and installing solar power • Where to go to get solar energy rebates • How to choose a solar panel installer • How to maintain your solar panel system page 1 ©Solar Trading Post LLC 2008

The Home Solar Panel Buyer’s Manual
What’s in this Manual?

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

What is Solar Energy?
It is important that you understand exactly what solar energy is. Wikipedia defines solar energy as: “energy from the sun in the form of heat and light.” When you use the term solar energy, you are actually referring to two different types of energy: heat and light. Each type of solar panel is designed to work either with the sun’s heat, or the sun’s light. For homeowners today, there are two types of solar panels. These are solar electric (otherwise known as photovoltaic.) Solar electric panels work with the sun’s light. Solar electric panels create electricity from the sun’s light that can be used to power your appliances – lights, fridge, etc. And there are solar hot water panels. Solar hot water panels use the sun’s heat to heat the water for your shower, kitchen, etc.

Here is a description of the mechanics of how photovoltaics work. And another article on photovoltaics.
To check solar panels costs, click here to visit the Alternative Energy Store

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

Types of Solar Electric Panels
SOLAR PANELS – (AKA PHOTOVOLTAICS) For most home the panels normally used are silicon. This technology has been around for the last 50 years. And while efficiency has certainly improved, the way these panels work has not really changed.

SOLAR TILES These are simply solar panels, but come in a much more integrated form. Instead of panels that sit on top of your roof, solar tiles are integrated into the roofing as actual tiles. Tiles are slightly less efficient than panels, so you need more of them to produce power. However, they do the job of roofing as well as energy production. This can make them a very cost effective option, especially if your house needs re-roofing. What’s in a Solar Electric Panel System? This depends what type of solar panel system you have. The next section explains each type of solar panel system. It’s important to note here that the actual solar panels themselves only make up about 50% of the cost of the whole system. The rest of the cost comes from the other components explained in the section below.

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

Solar Panel System Components
SOLAR PANELS These come in different shapes and sizes (see section ‘types of solar panels’) but they all do the same thing – turn sunlight into DC electricity. INVERTER The inverter turns DC electricity from your solar panels into AC electricity. DC stands for Direct Current electricity. Grid power and your house appliances run on AC electricity. So once the solar panels have made DC electricity this needs to be turned in AC with an inverter. There are many types of inverters. However, if you have a grid-tied system, you will need to have a true-sine wave inverter. CHARGE CONTROLLER This is only needed if you have batteries. A charge controller regulates the voltage and current coming from the solar panels going to the battery. They also stop your batteries from getting overcharged and a reverse flow from your batteries to your solar panels during the night. NET METERING This is an electric meter that can spin backwards. This allows you to sell power back to the grid. Sometimes power companies require you to install a separate meter for your solar power system. This is because some meters are unable to run backwards. This is what your meter will do when you are producing more solar energy than you are using. CIRCUIT BREAKER / DISCONNECT This is a safety feature – it is used to disconnect your solar panels from your house electrical system and the power grid. This is necessary for maintenance work – both on your home and on the main power grid. For instance, when there is a power outage, you need to be able stop the solar power from flowing into the main power grid for the safety of the maintenance team.

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

NB. Off grid houses can be wired for DC power. This eliminates the need for an inverter (except for some appliances that aren’t made to work with DC power. There aren’t many DC sound systems for example.) The advantage with keeping your power DC is that you won’t lose power through converting it to AC. Typically, converting DC to AC will mean 6% power loss.

Types of Solar Electric Panel Systems – System Diagrams
GRID TIED Components: Solar Panels, Inverter, Net Meter, Circuit Breaker Grid tied systems work by connecting your solar energy to the electricity grid. You generate solar power and sell the excess power back to the grid. The advantages of this system is that it is cost effective and you can sell your power when you aren’t using it. The disadvantages are that you cannot store your solar power.

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So if there is a power cut,

you will only have power if it is sunny outside and your solar panels are making power.
What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist OFF GRID Components: Solar Panels, Inverter, Circuit Breaker, Batteries, Charge Controller, Backup Power Off grid systems mean you are not connected to the grid – you live in a remote area. These systems are more expensive as you will need storage for your power in the form of batteries. Off grid systems also require a backup power source. You will need backup power if you have many rainy days in a row that use up your stored battery power. Backup power can also be useful for unexpected heavy power usage – for instance if you have many people to stay at one time.

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GRID TIED WITH BATTERIES Components: Solar Panels, Inverter, Circuit Breaker, Batteries, Charge Controller, Backup Power, Net Metering What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist The grid tied with batteries system is when you are connected to the grid and you have batteries to store your solar energy. This is a system where you get the advantage of selling excess power to the grid. You also have emergency backup power for when the grid goes down.

How to Decide which Type of Solar Panel System is the Best for Your Home
If you live off the grid – solar panels are usually a better investment than power cabling to connect to the grid. As a rule thumb – if you live more than 1 mile away from the grid, the cost of connection will be about the same as the cost of a solar system.

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

And a solar system gives you ‘free power,’ unlike the grid, where you are paying for power by the watt. If you live on the grid there is one thing to consider – do you get frequent power cuts? If you do get frequent power cuts, then a grid tied system with batteries will provide emergency backup power for when the grid is down. Otherwise, a grid tied system will give you the benefits of solar energy and bill savings, without the added expense of batteries. Batteries add approximately 20-30% onto the cost of a grid tied system.

Solar Hot Water vs Solar Electric Panels
There are two things to consider when choosing between solar hot water and solar electric panels – climate and payback time Solar electric panels tend to have a longer payback time. On the other hand, they last longer than solar hot water panels. Solar electric panels are often warrantied for 25 years, but they have been known to continue working for 40 years, with less than a 20% drop in energy production. If you live in a hot and sunny climate, solar hot water is considered an excellent investment. It can break even in 3-8 years, and in some climates will supply 70% of your winter hot water needs and 90% of your summer needs. Solar hot water is less expensive that solar electric, and can work even in states with colder climates. For example, many solar hot water panels have been successfully installed in New York, New Jersey and Canada, all places where it snows in winter. ©Solar Trading Post LLC 2008

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Solar electric panels work slightly better in cold and sunny climates. As they are harvesting sunlight energy rather than heat, low temperatures are not a problem. The advantage of solar electric is that it not only supplies you power, you can sell excess power back to the grid. The peak production time for solar panels is from 10 – 3pm. This is when most people are out of the house. During this time, your solar panels are producing energy that isn’t being used – if you’re out, the lights are off, appliances aren’t running. So this excess power can be sold back to the grid. If you have batteries, this power can then charge your batteries. You could also invest in solar hot water and solar electric. If you are building a new house, this may prove very cost effective.

What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

Solar Hot Water vs. Solar Electric Comparison Table
Benefits Sell Power back to the Grid Payback Time Inexhaustible Power Source Increases Value of Your Home Life Length of Solar Panel Clean Green Energy Reliable Source of Energy Upfront Cost Transportable Tax Rebates Available Solar Electric / Photovoltaic Yes 8-20 Years Yes Yes 25-40 years Yes Depends on Sunlight Higher No Yes Solar Hot Water No 3-8 Years Yes Only for Hot Water Prices Yes 10-15 Years Yes Depends on Sunlight Lower No Yes

You have Control over Price of Power Yes

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

You can also invest in solar hot water and solar electric. If you are building a new house, this may prove very cost effective.

Sizing your Solar Electric System
Solar Electric Panels are sized in kW. A 1kW system will output approximately 1kW per hour on a sunny day. Due to small losses in power from the inverter and other inefficiencies, a 1kW system will put out about 0.7kW per hour. There is no exact correlation between the size of the system and the payback time. If you have a larger system it will be more expensive. However, it will also supply you with more electricity, thus saving you more off your power bill. Therefore, a smaller solar system and a larger system will have approximately the same payback time. However, once it is paid off, your larger solar panel system will save you more money. This means it has a greater return on investment. The amount of power you use effects the size and cost of your solar system. For example, if you use 200kW a month, a 4kW system will take care of most of your needs, depending on where you live. If you live in California, you have on average 5.5 usable sunshine hours a day. (Usable sunshine is measured by kW/m2 per day. This is called solar insolation. To find how much solar insolation you have, you can check this solar insolation map.)

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

So your 4kW system will make more power if you live in California. If you live in New Jersey, you have on average 4.25 usable sunshine hours per day. So this same 4kW system will make less power.

This video shows a simple way to size a solar power system.

Costing Your Solar Electric Panel System
There are several factors controlling the cost of your system.The size of your house means absolutely nothing. What does matter are the factors listed below. Cost Factors that you don’t control: What state you are in (for rebates and tax incentives) How much sun you get per day Cost Factors that you control: Size of system - the bigger the size, the more expensive the system Type of System - Off Grid, Grid Tied, Grid Tied with Batteries How much power you use

The size of your house means absolutely nothing
An important part of costing is gathering several quotes for a job. This can be as simple as phoning several installers (most installers will do a free site evaluation and quote.)

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

Choosing a Solar Installer
There are two ways to install a solar system – you pay someone to do it, or you install it yourself. Unless you are a registered electrician and have solar experience, we recommend paying a qualified installer to install your solar panels. The reasons for this are threefold: Most councils require the electrics to be certified – this means the work must be done by a certified installer. Many of the rebates can only be claimed by people who have had their system installed by a qualified installer. Solar panel suppliers often require a certified installer as well. Depending on the small print in the guarantee, doing the installation yourself can sometimes void the guarantee. For solar panels to work at maximum efficiency, there are many factors that need to be taken into account. Having a competent solar installer for your system means that you’re more likely to get your solar panels working at optimum efficiency – thus saving you more money. When selecting an installer there are several things to take into account. Collect several quotes to make sure you are getting a good deal. Make sure that your installer has had previous experience with solar systems. There are several organizations that certify solar panel installers. Here’s one place to start looking for a solar installer: Find Solar - Directory of Pre-Screened Solar Professionals

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

Payback of Your Solar Panel System
The payback time is the amount of time it takes after you bought a solar system for it to start making you money. This is generally thought of as: Cost of System – Yearly Savings off your bill = Payback Time In other words, once your solar panel system has saved you more off your power bills than it cost you to buy it, its payback time is over. Each time the sun shines, you’re literally making money. These are the factors that affect your solar system payback time:

1. 2.

PRICE OF SYSTEM This is covered in the section above. However, you can certainly look for a good deal on solar energy systems. The less you pay, the shorter the payback time. It’s still important to make sure that you are buying quality, backed by a guarantee.

YOUR POWER BILL If you’re being charged an expensive rate for your power, your pay back time will be shorter. The way to work out your power rate is in $/kW. On each power bill, there is a monthly amount for kW used. Take this amount, and divide it by your power bill minus the fixed rates. (Fixed rates are what you pay the power company anyway, regardless of how much power you’re using.) This will give you your power rate.

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The average cost for electricity in America is $0.10 per kW.

3.
What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

ENERGY PRICES This you can’t control, however, the faster energy prices rise, the quicker your solar panels will pay themselves off. This is because your solar system will save you more money off your power bill. Your solar panels make the same amount of energy, but this energy is more expensive. Therefore, you spend less on expensive power.

4.

YOUR HOUSE VALUE Studies have shown that solar panels add to the value of your house. This value added is approximately 15 times the yearly power bill savings. Here’s one such study : Oregon Realtors - Solar Value Added to House Resale For example, if your solar system saves you $500 in the first year, the system has added about $7500 to the value to your house. For solar electric panel payback time, go and check this Solar Calculator – that’ll give you an estimate of payback time.

Here’s another Solar Calculator you might want to have a look at.
NB. it’s important to realize that values from the Solar Calculator are estimates of payback time, and cost. When installing solar, it’s recommended to get a professional costing because there are so many variables that affect your solar panel performance.

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

4.

WARRANTY When selecting a solar supplier, make sure that you are getting a suitable l length of warranty for the solar system. Solar electric systems should be warrantied for 2025 years. Inverters can also be warrantied for 2-5 years. The reason why a warranty is so important is that solar panels are a long term investment. By having a longer warranty, you are guaranteeing that you will get your return on investment.

Rebates Available
See DSIREUSA.org Each state provides rebates and cash incentives. Some states provide greater benefits than others. Most rebates can only be applied for after you have installed your solar system. Some rebates allow you to claim tax rebates from the state for several years after installation of your solar system. There is also a federal rebate – you get 30% off the price of your solar system in tax rebates. The maximum amount you can get is $2000. And if you install a solar electric system and a solar hot water system, you can claim for both of these systems separately. This rebate is available to everyone who installs a solar system. One thing to know though, is that most other rebates come on a first come, first served basis. Each year, a certain amount of money is allocated to give to people claiming the rebate. Once that amount is reached, either the rebate amount is less, or the rebate is no longer available.

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

Solar Panel Maintenance
POWER OUTPUT For solar panels, you want to check every few months for drops in productivity. You can do this simply by keeping track of your power bills. ROOF PENETRATIONS Check the flashing and sealing around roof penetrations. DUST AND LEAVES 2-3 times a year, give your solar panels a hose down. If they are dusty or dirty, their performance will drop. SHADING If there are trees around your house, check that they aren’t shading your panels. Shade on your panels will reduce their performance and power output.

Before you buy – Optimizing Your House
You can reduce your energy demand by taking a few simple steps. LIGHTBULBS Replace your regular incandescent light bulbs with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL.) Compact Fluorescents use about 60% less energy than a regular bulb. By simply using this bulb in place of a regular household bulb, you can save up to $60* per bulb in the costs of energy over the course of the bulb’s life. Here’s a site the calculates your savings per year for doing the switch: Light Bulbs America ENERGY EFFICIENT APPLIANCES One way to check for this is the energy star rating system. Here’s a USA government website where you can find energy efficient appliances: Energy Star

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You can also look for the energy star logo on appliances in stores. Appliances with this sticker have met the energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and US Department of Energy. What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist For discounts on solar panels and more free information on going off the grid, click here to visit the Alternative Energy Store PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN If you are building a house, design for passive solar heat gains. Here’s an article on solar house plans describing the principles behind this. INSULATION This cuts down on heat losses and your heating bill. Many states have grants in place for improving your house’s energy efficiency. Some programs will even put extra insulation into your house for free. Check DSIREUSA.org for details. Look up ‘energy efficiency rebates.’

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

Solar Buyers Checklist (for USA)
This is a quick checklist to fill out before contacting with solar power installers and suppliers. • Check that part of your roof that faces south is unshaded from 9am-4pm. (Actually, facing south is best practice in the Northern Hemisphere. However, you can get away with 90º each side of South without too much loss in efficiency.) • Make sure that if you are connected to the grid and can have net metering. See DSIREusa • Roof area. The rule of thumb is 100ft2 per kW of solar power. So if you want a 1kW system, you would need at least 100ft2 of unshaded roof. • Check your annual sunlight. Less sunny states like NYC and NJ have many solar installations. Solar power can work in less sunny areas as well. • An important thing is to own your own house, or be planning to buy one. Solar panels can be fitted onto existing houses. They are easily integrated into new houses. However, they are a long term investment and cannot be easily transported. If you don’t own your own house, and want to explore solar energy, then you might want to look at portable solar panels. • Check that your length of warranty will guarantee my solar power investment – 20-25 years for solar electric. • Look for competent solar installers in an approved directory – a good place to start is: Find Solar - Directory of Pre-Screened Solar Professionals • Check what rebates are available to you and how to claim them

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What is Solar Electric Energy Types of Solar Panels Components Types of Solar Systems Solar Electric vs. Solar Hot Water Sizing and Costing Installing Payback Time Solar Rebates Maintanence & Before You Buy Solar Buyer’s Checklist

DISCLAIMER The information contained in this manual is based on sources and information reasonably believed to be accurate as of the time it was recorded or created. However, this material deals with topics that are constantly changing and are subject to ongoing changes related to technology and the market place as well as legal and related compliance issues. Therefore, the completeness and current accuracy of the materials cannot be guaranteed. These materials do not constitute legal, compliance, financial, tax, accounting, or related advice. The end user of this information should therefore use the contents of this manual and the materials as a general guideline and not as the ultimate source of current information and when appropriate the user should consult their own accounting, construction or other advisors. Any case studies, examples, illustrations cannot guarantee that the user will achieve similar results. In fact, your results may vary significantly and factors such as your climate, house site and many other circumstances may and will cause results to vary. PRIVACY POLICY I never sell, rent, trade or lend any information about my subscribers to anyone, for any reason, whatsoever. I assure you that your privacy is respected and well protected.

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