Renewable Energy
All things energy, from solar and wind power to efficiency and off-grid living.

How Have Solar Panel Cost and Efficiency Changed Over Time?

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Solar panel technology has been around in some form for a long time – Bell Labs invented the first useful solar cell more than 60 years ago, and scientists have known for centuries that the sun can be used to produce energy. However, it’s only in the last ten years or so that solar photovoltaics (PV) has really taken off as a renewable energy source. There are two major factors influencing the technology’s growth: the steady improvement of both solar panel cost and solar panel efficiency over time.

Solar Panel Efficiency Over Time

The very first solar cells, invented in the 1800s, were less than one percent efficient, not nearly enough to make them a useful energy source. It wasn’t until 1954 that Bell Labs invented the first useful silicon solar panel, which was about six percent efficient.

Since then, solar PV technology has evolved at a rapid pace. Manufacturers have been able to create solar panels that are nearly 30 percent efficient, and homeowners on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace regularly receive quotes featuring solar panels with 19 to 21 percent efficiency from solar installers. These high efficiency panels can produce 25 percent more electricity than the lower-tier economy panels that made up the majority of the market in past years.

The technology exists to increase solar panel efficiency even further. Researchers have managed to achieve 46 percent efficiency in certain laboratory tests using advanced cell structures. However, super high-efficiency panels are typically made of more expensive materials not used in rooftop solar panels, and as a result, they aren’t currently cost-effective. 

solar panel efficiency graph

Graph: Solar panel efficiency over time

Cost of Solar Panels Over Time: a Tale of Falling Prices

Less than 10 years ago, in 2008, the cost of a solar panel installation was $8.82 per watt. The solar industry today looks very different: in addition to solar panel efficiency increasing dramatically, solar panel producers have significantly improved their manufacturing processes. Solar installers, too, can deploy solar PV across the United States more efficiently now than they could ten years ago. The result: the price of solar has fallen by over 60 percent, to just $3.36/watt.

There’s evidence that the rate at which solar prices are decreasing is picking up speed, too. From the second half of 2014 to the first half of 2015, prices featured in quotes to homeowners on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace fell by 1.85%. Between the first half of 2016 and the second half of 2016, however, the average price per watt fell by a remarkable 6.25%. 

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Graph: Solar panel cost over time

The price decreases over the past ten years are major reason why more and more homeowners are interested in installing solar panels. For a standard 6 kW home solar system, the average gross cost has fallen from $52,920 to just $20,160 in the past decade. Subtract the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar, and you’re looking at $14,110 for a home solar PV system that can cover most, if not all, of your electricity needs. If you own your home, why wouldn’t you consider solar?

Changes in solar panel cost over time can be explained by Swanson’s Law, which states that the price of solar PV modules decreases by about 20 percent for every doubling in global solar capacity. The law is named after Richard Swanson, founder of high-efficiency solar panel manufacturer SunPower, and indicates a phenomenon seen across many different technologies: new industries face a major learning curve, and as they improve, prices fall.

In this way, solar panel manufacturers aren’t that different from computer manufacturers. Think about how much more expensive, and less powerful, your laptop was in 2007 compared to the technology that’s available today. If solar PV technology continues along the same trend, it’s easy to envision a future where solar is on every rooftop. 

How to Get the Most Efficient Solar PV System at the Best Price: Compare Options

Solar panel efficiency is improving dramatically, and costs are declining at a similarly rapid rate. However, the solar industry is diverse. Depending on where you look, you may not find the best deal on a system for your home or business.

The best way to ensure that you choose a solar PV system with the right combination of high efficiency and low cost is to compare all of your options on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Homeowners who get competing solar quotes from installers on EnergySage typically save 10% on their solar installation costs, and frequently choose packages that include some of the most efficient solar panels on the market (from companies like SunPower, LG, and Panasonic).

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.


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How to Save on Solar With Net Metering

 

Since 2009, solar prices have gone down 62 percent, with every part of the supply chain trimming costs, according to Bloomberg news. Advancements in technology also play a large part in cost reduction by improving efficiency and energy output, which in turn lowers a system’s cost per kWh. The evolving solar power landscape continues to make it easier and cheaper for all types of households to adopt solar. There are several more ways that you can save on the cost of going solar, one of which has to do with policies determined on a state level, namely net-metering. Let’s look closer into exactly what net metering is and how it can save you hundreds of more dollars each year paired with your solar panel system.

Net Metering Basics

Net metering refers to the billing procedure that allows residential customers who produce their own electricity from solar power to feed excess electricity back into the utility grid. The owner of the system for that electricity then receives credit at the same retail price that paid for electricity taken from the grid. What this means, is that if you have a residential solar system that is net-metered, your electricity meter can run actually backwards to provide your credit against what electricity you use from the grid, since you’re only billed for the net energy you use. You basically get paid for any excess energy that you produce but don’t use. This can add up to a lot of savings in the long run and offset the initial investment cost of your solar panel system.

Net metering policies are decided on and regulated by each state differently. A majority of states in the U.S have authorized net metering, but even then, they all have different approaches to policies with variations in multiple criteria. The differences between state regulation mean that the cost benefits of net metering can vary. If you live in a state without net metering, you can still receive credit for excess electricity, just at a different rate. In these cases, the utility company will likely pay you back at the wholesale rate, which is usually lower.

Best States For Net Metering

States with vast solar adoption and net metering programs allow solar system owners to get the most money out of their investment. Some states that are leading the way in solar-friendliness include Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and California.

Residential solar customers in California that feed excess solar power back into the grid, get one bill credit for each one kWh of utility-generated power they give. These customers are able to receive a huge amount of electricity bill savings by installing a solar system and taking advantage of net metering. How much exactly? According to GTM Research $700 to $1,000 of savings on their annual electricity bill compared to a scenario with no net energy metering at all, equivalent to savings of an additional 54 percent to 85 percent. 

 Massachusetts is another state that gets an “A” on its net metering report card. In 2016, the state’s governor lifted the reimbursement cap utilities had to pay to solar energy producers. Its new policy will allow for continued solar development, but at a reduced cost to ratepayers, according to MassLive. This new policy was a compromise between government and business and now reimburses solar owners 11 or 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. Although lower than the retail rate, this reimbursement adds up big in the long run and longevity of a residential solar power system.

 Adopting solar power is a powerful investment for your home and environment. If you want to see exactly how much you can save by going solar, you can use our solar calculator. You can also see the exact net metering policies and other solar rebates and incentives online at DSIRE, the Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

Image credit: Pilar Blasco

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Connect with Sarah on Twitter and Facebook. Read all of Sarah’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Solar Panel ROI Guide

 

Are solar panels a good investment, even if you may sell your home in the future? Research says yes! Buying a solar panel system is good investment not only in the wellness of the environment, but also the value of your home. A study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBL) concluded that homebuyers have consistently been willing to pay more for a property with photovoltaic systems. This was found to be true across a variety of states, housing and markets, and home types. Who wouldn’t want a home with extremely low utility bills?

 Buying into residential solar power is a great way for homeowners to save on their electricity costs every month, and make the home more desirable once it goes back on the market. If you’re thinking about going solar, there are specific steps you can take to help make sure you get the greatest return on investment, whether you move sometime in the future or not!

 Local Advantage

A good first step to take is to do some research on the benefits of solar power in the state you live. The federal investment tax credit , which applies to residents in all 50 states, will allow you to apply 30 percent of the cost of your solar system as a tax credit to your income tax bill. In addition to this, there may be local and state incentives that you can take advantage of to cut the cost of your initial investment.

 Another consideration is the utility rates in your area. This will have a hand in determining the savings you’ll reap over the life of your solar system. The more expensive the electricity, the more money you’re saving when you switch to solar. Hence, making it an even more attractive feature for future homebuyers.

 The third location-based factor is the net-metering policy in your state. Net metering allows homeowners who generate their own electricity from solar panels to receive credit for feeding the extra electricity they don’t use back onto the utility grid. When you’re hooked up the grid, you’ll only be billed for the net energy use. So when your panels produce more energy than you need, perhaps in the middle of the day, your electricity meter can literally run backwards to provide you with a credit against what electricity is consumed during other periods when the electricity use exceeds the system's output. 

 If all three of these incentives are in your favor, than you’re in for the optimal return on a solar investment.

 Get The Most Power From Your Panels

The more power your system produces, the less money you pay the utility companies. One of the biggest factors that will affect your systems output is where it is installed. Rooftop installations are the most common because it best exposes the panels to the most sunlight. What kind of roof do you have and how much sun exposure does it get? A south-facing roof with a 30-degree pitch is the ideal situation, but panels can also be installed on the ground, it just depends on what is the best place on your property. Even if your roof doesn’t fit the ideal criteria, there are plenty of solutions that a solar installation professional can help you find.

When it comes to choosing the exact type of solar system to purchase, its best to first evaluate how your home consumes energy. Look at your past utility bills for trends and try new habits to reduce your overall electricity use. By gaining control over your energy usage, you can reduce the size of the solar panel system you’ll need, lowering your investment and operating cost. Next, you’ll need to decide the types of panels are best for your home. Monocrystaline, polycrystalline, and thin-film photovoltaic cells are the most common type on the market right now. A good solar consultant can help you determine which suits your property, which brings us to the next point.

Get A Bang For Your Buck

Choosing the right solar power company is a huge part of the process, and possibly the most important in determining your ROI. The best way to find qualified solar installers in your area is by utilizing a trusted marketplace. This way, you can compare several providers at once who will compete for you business. And making sure that you get the best deal to begin with, means a better return in the future.

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Connect with Sarah on Twitter and Facebook. Read all of Sarah’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Abundant Clean Energy Design Competition: You Can Compete

Nothing, Nothing, Nothing, BANG

HeroX, a subsidiary of the Xprize Foundation, has announced a prize design competition for  Abundant Clean Energy.   HeroX proposes that the world will be much better if global clean energy generation is dramatically improved beyond current choices – and that’s why they are developing this XPRIZE.

Key to this prize is the assertion that we live on a planet awash with energy, in a universe where all matter is made of immense amounts of energy (E=mc2), and we find ourselves in a society forced to make bad choices for most of our energy supply from a set of technologies as old as the transistor, not to mention fire. Because the vast majority of mankind’s current energy use is coming from unsustainable and damaging sources, HeroX suggests we need something better.  For this reason, they invite you to help design an Xprize to fund development of a new Abundant Clean Energy source or system. 

This design competition was inspired by a talk by Barry Thompson titled FORBIDDEN ENERGY.

Forbidden Energy Video

The Sustainability Action Network of Lawrence, Kansas recently hosted Bryan Welch, the former publisher of Mother Earth News who presented a talk on using and designing Business as a Force for Good. In his talk he described the invention of the airplane,

“For 3,000 years, nothing, nothing, nothing, BANG!”  Then the Wright Brothers finally succeeded. 

For 3,000 years the best and brightest including geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci had pondered the question of how can man fly? Bygone Einstein’s, Plato, Pythagoras, and others did not see the solution.  Some of the smartest people ever to walk the Earth did not see the answer.  It took a couple of bicycle mechanics to do the job on December 17, 1903.

Where are We Now in Terms of Energy?

Energy conversion technologies invented in the 19th Century

Steam Turbines
Wind Turbines
Electric Generators and Motors
Fuel Cells
Photovoltaics

Nuclear fission and fusion do nothing more than produce steam to run turbines. Fusion reactors are 30 years in the future and always will be.

Physics has given us no new way to use energy since the 1800s. We are now in the 21st century using 19th century energy conversion technology.  We are in need of Wright Brothers moment for a new energy supply. 

A new physics and a way forward will allow us to fulfill Tesla’s Prophecy; 

Ere many generations pass,

mankind will attach his machinery to the very wheelworks of nature.

This is the intent of the HeroX Prize design competition.

Reference: Tesla's Prophecy

Toby Grotz is an electrical engineer who has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. He has been a community garden advocate and organizer ever since. Recent projects include lecturing for the Food Not Lawns classes sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Communiversity. He is a member of the Sierra Club and past officer of the Kanza Group. Read all of Toby's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Tips on How to Talk to Your Solar Installer and Save Money in the Process

 

How To Negotiate With A Solar Installer

If you’re ready to spring into a solar panel system for your home, this is a great year to do so. The continued drop in solar systems prices paired with exciting technology developments have made 2017 a great year to go solar. Solar energy can help you reduce your utility bills, improve your property value, and of course help the environment!

When you begin shopping around for a solar system, you may wonder what goes into the hefty sticker price. The largest part of the expensive derives from the actual­­ equipment. This usually includes the panels themselves, the inverter, and the mounting system. Then you have to factor in the costs of labor, installation, and permitting. Plus, your installation cost can fluctuate depending on exactly where you’re going to be mounting the panels. A complex roof, for example, can be more difficult to install and require more man-hours. This type of specification is a perfect example of something to go over with solar installers when you start negotiating overall price. Want to save money on your solar panel system? Start by knowing how to negotiate with the solar installers you interview. Below is an overview of what you need to know to get started. In the case of buying a solar system, knowledge is definitely power!

Cost Per Installed Watt

Your ability to pull the trigger on a solar system is probably going to depend on whether it can fit within your budget. It’s crucial to be able to decipher pricing quotes from vendors and understand how that will or won’t fit within your requirements. First, the quotes you receive should clearly state the maximum generating capacity of the system in AC watts. If they provide a quote with DC watts, have them convert it to AC before you get started.

The size of a solar system is typically measured in kilowatts (kW). It will be helpful for you to know how much a system will cost you per watt (1 kW is 1,000 watts). To do so, take the quoted price that you get from a trusted installer and divide it by the expected output. This is your cost per installed watt. You can use this to compare to other installers and figure out who has the lowest cost per installed watt. Use this figure to compare systems, regardless of size. Just because one system is more expensive, that doesn’t necessarily mean that its value in terms of power output is greater. Configure your cost per watt and compare.

Break It Down

Ask for a breakdown of all that is included in your quote. Does the quote incorporate reductions granted by the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) incentive? The ITC affords a 30 percent rebate for eligible solar technologies including photovoltaic, solar water heating, and solar space heating/cooling. That’s right, this incentive reduces the total cost of your solar system by 30 percent! Plus, there may be additional state tax credits available to you depending on what state you live in.  You can do more research on which rebates are available in your state with the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. Also, be sure to ask whether the quoted price includes sales tax, permitting, connecting to the grid and all hardware.

Credentials and Warranty

Take to your installer about their insurance coverage and available warranties. There are often different warranties. One issued from the parts manufacturer and a second from the installer, so be sure to ask about both. Make sure you’re getting the right warranty that suits your budget

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to ask for the installer’s credentials and certifications. Ask how many years of experience they have installing photovoltaic systems, and their experience in your area. Ask if there be a project manager responsible for keeping the project on time and within budget? Who will be your point-person. What’s your projected turnaround time for this project?

Compare at least three installers to get a good sense of who you’re working with and to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.

Once you’ve spoken to several installers and are armed with all this knowledge, you can make an informed decision. Take all these aspects into consideration and use them to negotiate exactly what you want. Choosing the right solar installer is arguably the most important step in the solar power process. You can always turn to a trusted solar power marketplace to get a head start and see how much you can be saving.

Photo by skeeze

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Connect with Sarah on Twitter and Facebook. Read all of Sarah’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Make Homemade Biogas Energy, Not Food Waste, at the ‘Complete Biogas’ Workshop

Scraping Food From Plate

Photo by Flickr/jbloom

Some years ago, my wife took a public speaking class. Occasionally, she was supposed to give a speech of her own devising, but like many famous and busy people, she decided to hire a speechwriter. After an extensive international search, I got the job.

One of my favorite speeches that she gave— superbly written, as I recall — was about sugar being the root of all evil. After all, wasn’t sugar responsible for the “triangular” slave trade? In an era without tractors, where else could they get cheap labor? And wasn’t it sugar, made into rum, which caused so much misery? (Some would say rum caused a lot of happiness, too, but hey, we’re trying to prove that sugar is the root of all evil here, so keep your eye on the ball.)

Then there’s sugar and tooth decay, sugar and skull malformations (you could look it up: search for Weston Price), and it is well known that sugar encourages both sloth and licentiousness. (I just made that last part up.)

I’ve decided, though, that food waste sent to landfills runs a close second as the root of all evil. There are a few good reasons to think so.

Food Waste, Hunger, and Climate Change

You might know that worldwide, something like a third or more of the food grown is never eaten: It simply goes to waste. In the U.S., some estimate that 40% of our food is thrown away — and the true figure may be higher than that. It amounts to better than 1,200 calories per person per day in the U.S. In a world where children go hungry, should that happen? In a country where some report that one in six are hungry, should that happen?

All that’s bad, but it gets worse. Much of this food waste is taken to landfills and buried. Nearby oxygen is quickly used up by bacterial life, so the food waste goes anaerobic. It produces biogas, which is almost entirely carbon dioxide and methane, and when that methane escapes into the atmosphere — well, if you were paying attention in science class, you know that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, contributing to manmade global climate change. Some people say that it is 25 times worse than carbon dioxide, but newer research has demonstrated that, pound for pound, methane produces something between 70 and 100 times the impact of carbon dioxide.

For such reasons, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says that if the greenhouse impact of food waste were ranked as if it were the output of one of the world’s  nations, it would be third, after the U.S. and China. That is, the impact of global food waste on climate change is greater than the GHG emissions of the entire sub-continent of India, all sectors included.

Further, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the production of methane accounts for “about 25% of the manmade global warming.” Finally, the chief scientist of the EDF has said that “by emitting just a little bit of methane, mankind is greatly accelerating the rate of climatic change.”

“Wild” methane turns out to be a big problem, and food waste is an important contributor.

What Can Be Done?

Now, everyone has their own work, to be sure. Some of us will be raising babies to be wonderful human beings; some of us have nine to fives, five out of seven; some of us write speeches. Some have more freedom to choose, some less. Some look up, and some keep their heads down. It takes all kinds, right?

And as well, some of us want to do something about one or more of these Big Problems. We’re pretty sure that life is a wonderful privilege, and therefore, it necessarily comes with important responsibilities. It’s not that we can solve any of these Big Problems all by ourselves. Rather (we think), it’s that everyone has to find their own spot and then stand there and make it a little better.

So, this methane/food waste thing one of these Big Problems. And yet, this methane/food waste thing is, at the same time, a great opportunity. When the methane is produced “in the wild”, it has a dramatic, short-term negative impact on climate change.

But when we deliberately generate biogas from that same would-otherwise-have-been-thrown-away food waste, we gain the lovely, nearly invisible blue-flame energy. We also produce a great fertilizer (the leftover effluent) and the combustion byproducts are carbon dioxide and water, replacing the “wild” methane and reducing the GHG impact to something between 1 and 3 percent of what it otherwise would have been. We have tamed the beast!

Making Biogas Make Sense

The good news is that biogas is easy to make. It’s the only biologically based renewable energy, besides combustion — simple fire — that happens and then persists in nature. (That’s not true of alcohol, not true of biodiesel.) But if you think about it, you already know that, right? ‘Cause we said: Toss food waste into a hole and cover it up, it will generate biogas/methane. So, it can’t be that hard, eh?

Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s blood simple in nature — it happens all by itself. But also no, the biogas biology can be fragile and finicky, although there are ways to make it more stable, if you know what you’re doing.

But the biggest difficulty is that the biogas biology very much prefers to be toasty warm, and the rate of biogas production depends on the internal temperature of the digester. (This spreadsheet will give you some numbers.)

I can’t tell the whole story here and now, but the take-home is that you need an insulated, heated digester where the contents can be stirred or agitated. Otherwise, if the contents of the digester are “at ambient” —  outside air temps — then, even in lovely Florida during the winter months, an unheated digester will stop producing biogas.

Now, if this were still 2016, that would be pretty much the end of the story. 1) Here’s a problem. 2) Here’s a potential solution, but, oops, sorry, 3) you will have to figure out how to make a digester, because there was no low-cost, small-scale, DIY biogas digester widely available which was insulated and heatable.

Learn to Build Your Own Biogas Digester in This Workshop

Homemade Biogas Digester Exploded

[The_Cube] home-scale biogas digester.

 Well, now it seems there is. This new wunderkind is called [The_Cube]. You can read a lot more about it here, if you’d like.

I’ll be writing a lot more about all aspects of this new digester, using this blog to tell you when plans are ready and other Pretty Neat Stuff, so keep coming back to MOTHER’s site for more juicy details. As well, you may want to sign up for email notifications and further information, here.

Meanwhile, we will be teaching workshops — including a Complete Biogas Workshop May 4-8, 2017, in Aurora, Oregon —so that anyone who wants to find out how to build these digesters from parts you can get at your local hardware store: polystyrene insulation (the pink stuff, rigid boards), various bits of lumber, some pipe and such, a small resistance heater, a fountain pump, and a few other items. The first day will be “all about biogas”, and thereafter, we will spend time building one of these digesters, and experiencing some hands-on manufacturing techniques. More details in the link just above.

We won’t be holding anything back, mind you. Come to a “builder’s” workshop and you will learn everything you need to know about how to produce complete digesters from locally purchased materials: as many as you want.

As well, this auspicious year of 2017, one of our main goals will be to work hard to put together everything we need to enable folks to use these digesters (and upcoming designs) to make a business out of saving the planet, one soggy French fry at a time. Further, we will be releasing plans, for those who cannot (yet) attend a workshop, and likewise selling kits. Stay tuned.

In sum, that’s the 411: Food waste, bad. Methane, worse. Biogas, good. You can make it, burn it, gain energy (and high quality fertilizer!), using [The_Cube] and follow-on designs, and you will then be responsible for withdrawing food waste from the landfill and thus doing a very good thing.

You can be a global warming warrior. You can become personally carbon negative!

Homemade Biogas Digester Plan

David William House is the founder of Earthmind, an educational nonprofit that teaches about ecological living, as well as Computer Classroom, ici (computer sales), and an eponymous computer consultancy. He’s the author of Methane Systems, The Complete Biogas Handbook, Journey (a book of poetry), and numerous articles. David is also the designer of a low-cost, plastic-bag-based biogas digester for equatorial belt countries and inventor of a patented new technology for cochlear implants. Find him at The Complete Biogas Handbook and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

DIY solar: how to Build Your Own Solar Panel System

build-own

When you install solar panels, your home produces its own clean, zero-emissions electricity. If you’re DIY-minded, you can build your own solar power system. In some cases, you can even build your own solar panels, although the amount that you can effectively DIY home solar depends on how much you want to power. 

Learn How to Make Your Own Solar Panels

Making your own solar panel is a time-consuming process and requires some electrical skills. However, it can also be very rewarding – learning to build your own PV panel is a great way to understand how solar electricity is generated.

Before you can build your own solar panels, you first need to understand how solar cells generate electricity. The vast majority of solar panels in use today are made of crystalline silicon wafers, which typically measure six inches square. When the sun shines on those wafers, the electrons in them start to move. This flow of electrons is an electrical current.

A single full-sized solar panel, like the kind used in rooftop solar power systems, will have 60 silicon wafers. You can also make smaller panels if your electricity needs are low. Once you’ve bought individual solar cells (they can be purchased online), the basic process for building your own solar panel goes like this:

Prepare the backing for your panel. Many DIY solar panel builders use a wooden board as the base for their solar cells. You’ll need to drill holes in the board so that the wires for each cell can pass through.

Wire your solar cells together. This requires some experience with electrical work. Use a soldering iron to attach wire to the solar cells and then link each of the cells together.

Attach cells to your backing. If possible, affix each solar cell to the backing individually. This makes it easier to replace a single cell in the event that becomes damaged or is not operating properly.

At this point you have a functional solar panel that can produce electricity when the sun shines. However, a solar panel by itself is not useful. If you are trying to generate electricity to power devices in your home, you need to pair your panel with an inverter that will turn direct current (DC) power from the sun into the alternating current (AC) power used in most modern electronic devices.

For a standalone off-grid system, you will also need to include a battery pack and charge controller in your DIY solar setup. The battery pack serves to store excess energy, and the charge controller manages the amount of electricity that flows through the battery.

If you want to build a solar panel system that will power your home, the process is significantly more complicated. A standard grid-connected solar PV system that can power your home will have around 20 solar panels, each of which will need to be wired together and mounted to your roof (or in an unshaded ground location on your property). Most importantly, a qualified electrician has to confirm your system has been built correctly before your utility will allow you to connect your panels to the electric grid.

Build Your Own Solar Panel System, or Work With an Installer

Whether you DIY your own solar panel system with a solar kit or work with an experienced solar installer depends on why you want to install solar.

For small-scale off-grid installations, you can DIY it

Solar panels are portable and convenient for a variety of off-grid uses. You don’t even have to build your own solar panels if you don’t want to – there are inexpensive solar panel kits for sale that include each of the components you’ll need for a DIY solar installation. Building your own solar panel system is a good option if you want to construct a small off-grid system to power a cabin, RV, boat, or tiny home. 

For a whole-home solar panel system, work with a solar installer

When it comes to installing a full-scale solar power system on your property, working with a solar installer with significant experience can save you both time and money in the long run. Some of the top solar companies have been installing solar energy systems for decades – experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Your solar installer can also help you find the financial incentives available in your area and complete the permits and applications necessary to get your solar energy system up and running.

To get a sense for how much you can save by installing a solar panel system for your home, review an instant solar estimate from EnergySage’s Solar Calculator. If you’re debating between building your own solar power system and working with an installer, get a few quotes from local solar companies to see what it would cost. You can easily compare options from qualified installers in your area for free by joining the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.


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