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Sep 30, 2015 BY arielle

A Solar Panel Primer

Eco-conscious people have long been looking for ways to end dependency on non-renewable energy sources. With that desire, came a brilliant idea: to look to the sun. The last decade has seen a proliferation of solar-powered homes. Tax incentives, worries about climate change, and expanded research has made them practically commonplace.

The Basics

Solar energy utilizes the sun as fuel to create heat or electricity. There are two types of panels: photovoltaic solar panels and solar thermal collectors. Photovoltaic solar panels convert particles from the sun into electricity. Solar thermal collectors, on the other hand, use the sun’s heat to warm liquid in a network of pipes. Both are considered eco-friendly, as they don’t generate carbon byproduct and can be used to reduce heating or electricity bills.

History Lesson

Solar technology is old news. It all began in the 7th century B.C. when people began concentrating the sun’s rays with magnifying glasses to make fire. In 20 A.D., the Chinese document using burning mirrors to light torches for religious purposes. More than 1,000 years later the Anasazi in North America choose south-facing cliff dwellings to capture the sun.

The Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure has been credited as the building the world’s first solar collector in 1767 as a way to cook food. In the 1860s French mathematician August Mouchet began working on the first solar powered engines. It wasn’t until 1908 that the Carnegie Steel Company invented a solar collector with copper coils and an insulated box – the beginnings of present-day design.

Modern day technology was truly born in 1954, with the development of the silicon photovoltaic cell – the first to generate enough power to run everyday electrical equipment. The rest became a race to the technology of today.

The Numbers

Installing solar panels can do incredible things to your carbon footprint. On average, you’ll save 35,180 pounds of carbon dioxide per year – about 88 trees worth of offset. You’ll also save an average of $84 a month in electricity.

Solar panel costs have dropped 60% since 2011. The average up-front cost of installing solar panels is $17,000. But, there is a 30% tax credit for properties converting to solar by 2016.

Most people calculate the size of their solar system needs by multiplying their average kilowatts per day (found on your electric bill) by .25. However, the actual number of panels you’ll need depends on the panel’s output, insolation, and how many hours of peak sunlight the panels receive per day. 

Final Thoughts

Solar panels are a great way to lower energy costs, up the value of your home, and reduce your carbon footprint. With the tax incentives and lowered costs, now is a great time to upgrade your home to become more eco-friendly.

Just remember to hire a reputable professional – additional wiring and panel placement is key to building an efficient system.

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