We face many environmental problems today. In response, there have been rapid advances in various technological solutions. One such solution, solar energy, has the potential to transform our world and address many of our current environmental issues.

In particular, reducing carbon emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.

Solar energy is derived from the use of photovoltaic (PV) panels, commonly referred to as solar panels.

Importantly, this technology holds amazing promise for both individual and corporate entities.

Whether you're looking for ways to save money long term or help the environment, switching your electricity source to solar energy is a great option. This renewable power source is not only effective at reducing your carbon footprint but can also provide for your electricity needs at a much lower cost.(1)

SINCE 2010, THE COST OF SOLAR HAS PLUMMETED 70%

More people are starting to harness energy from the sun. A solar PV system is installed in the United States every four minutes.(2)

And no wonder:

Solar is the most abundant (3) energy source available.

To choose what you need, you have to first know what solar panels are.


WHAT ARE SOLAR PANELS?

At first glance, you might think all solar panels are the same. However, not all solar panels are created equal. Solar panels you see on lamp posts, homes, or huge buildings differ in so many ways. Before delving into the types of solar panels, it's essential to understand how solar energy is collected by these panels in the first place.

The sun releases photons, or packets of energy, which find their way to Earth. This step is where the magic begins. Solar panels or PV panels convert the photons into electricity. They can be used to power a myriad of things — charging your phone or laptop, turning on your television, powering buildings, and any other use of electricity today.

Solar panels are composed of solar cells made of silicon, boron (which provides positively charged particles), and phosphorous (which gives negatively charged particles.)

The energy striking the solar panels kick out electrons from atomic orbits. Then, electrons enter an electric field in the solar cell, which then pulls the electrons into an electrical circuit. This process is called the photovoltaic effect.(4)

Here are the most common kinds of PV panels.

MONOCRYSTALLINE SILICON

A go-to choice for many, monocrystalline silicon is one of the most popular and oldest kinds of solar panels. These PV panels consist of melted silicon and crystalline seed. Then, this mixture is cut into squares to make solar panels. Monocrystalline silicon contains crystals that are similar to the ones used in computer chips.

Mono refers to the identical structures in the solar panel.

This characteristic creates consistency across the entire solar panel. This type of solar panel is not made up of squares. Its sharp sides are cut off to help the electrons travel faster throughout the panel.

Aside from the unique shape of this kind of solar panel, you should also note its color. A darker solar panel absorbs more light. So, darker is better in terms of electricity-producing potential.

Since monocrystalline silicon cells have been around for a long time, their efficiency and durability are well documented. Most early PV projects created in the 1970s are still functioning today.

This type of solar panel can convert a high amount of solar energy into electricity. If you want to produce the maximum amount of electricity for a smaller location such as a roof, this type of panel is ideal. Although this type of solar panel is highly efficient, it also comes with a very high price tag.

POLYCRYSTALLINE SILICON

Similar to monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon is also extremely efficient. This type of PV panel has fewer steps in its manufacturing process. The crystals used to solidify the melted silicon are not the same as its monocrystalline counterpart.

Instead of rounded edges, polycrystalline silicon has straight corners. If you get a glimpse of this type of solar panel, you will notice something that looks like shiny confetti. These are the crystals.

The downside of using this solar panel is that it has gaps where electrons get trapped. This characteristic makes it less efficient than monocrystalline silicon solar panels.

However, this panel is more affordable than the monocrystalline silicon solar panel.

THIN-FILM SOLAR PANELS

One of the most successful innovations for people who don't have the luxury of much outdoor space is thin-film solar panels. These solar cells contain light absorbing layers that are more than 300 times smaller than a traditional silicon panel. Its slim design and efficiency make it the lightest solar panel you can find.

Thin-film solar panels are more suited for solar panel farms, universities, and locations with a large area of sun exposure, although it still has potential in the residential sector.

While these solar panels offer slightly less efficiency, they can significantly reduce your electricity needs. This type of PV panel also needs more roof space to cover your electric bill.

However, thin-film solar panels are easier to install and feature reduced labor costs.

So not only are solar panels simple to produce and affordable, but they enhance our economy by creating countless jobs in America. In fact...

THE FASTEST-GROWING JOB IN THE UNITED STATES IS “SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC INSTALLER”

HOW TO GET STARTED WITH SOLAR PANELS

Solar panels have become more accessible. If you want to install solar panels for your home or business, here are a couple of things worth considering.

FOR BUSINESS

Solar panels can provide incredible benefits for your business. This fact is precisely why some of the biggest companies today are investing vast sums (4) of money in solar power.

THE SOLAR INDUSTRY PUT $17 BILLION INTO THE AMERICAN ECONOMY IN 2018

To start, contact a solar company with an excellent track record of installation. You can ask other business owners in your area for recommendations.

Expect a company representative to inspect your property and explain how the technology works. You also need to define your current and future energy needs. To streamline this process, find out how much energy you are currently using. Solar energy installation companies know available incentives and net metering options (more on this later).

After determining which areas receive the most sunlight and how to connect solar panels to your grid, the solar company will design your panels. This plan includes how many panels you need to supply ample power. Once settled, move on with the compliance of government requirements.

Before you finalize your plans, make sure to look into the newest upgrades and developments that can potentially help you. If your proposal gets approved, construction can finally begin. This process can take between six months to more than one year, while upgrades can take weeks or months.

FOR HOMES

A typical American household spends over $1,400 (5) on electricity annually. You need electricity daily to power your smart devices, appliances, heating, A/C, and all other energy needs. Solar power provides electricity for over 12.3 million homes (6) today.

THE BENEFITS OF RESIDENTIAL SOLAR ARE IMPRESSIVE

If you have a sufficient budget, you can hire a company to install solar panels in your home. If not, get familiar with the steps below.

Planning to install solar panels requires the determination of your energy needs, the amount of sunlight your area receives, and your desired return on investment. You also have to note where you can install your solar panels at home.

Take time to measure the dimensions of your panels and make sure that it fits in the designated space. You should also examine if your roof can accommodate the extra weight. If not, you might need to renovate first.

Next, it’s time to install the supports. Usually, mounts on flat roofs and brackets for sloped roofs support the solar panels. These items are readily available at hardware stores. Brackets should lay solar panels at an angle that receives a high amount of sunlight.

As you attach your solar panels, handle them with care. Secure them tightly to make sure that they don't slide off the brackets. You should also consider support against the weather. After installation, connect the panels together with a properly insulated and waterproof wire.



Work on your photovoltaic components, such as the inverter, in a safe, dry, and ventilated part of your home, like a garage or attic. Then, connect your inverter to the AC breaker.

But you don’t have to install your own panels to enjoy solar.

In fact, in states like California, Colorado, Massacchusetts, and Minnesota, community solar farms are hugely popular. This lets communities adopt solar without having to install their own panels.

FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR INSTALLING SOLAR PANELS

Solar panels are expensive. When purchasing a solar energy system, it's important to know that subsidies may be available. Because the government wants to incentivize solar energy investment, available incentives can cut your total cost to under $10,000.(7)

Here are some solar panel incentives currently available.

FEDERAL INVESTMENT TAX CREDIT

The Investment Tax Credit is a federal policy in the U.S. that offers business owners and homeowners a tax credit of 30 percent worth of their solar installation costs. This benefit will allow you to subtract 30 percent off the total cost of your installation from what you owe in your tax liability.

If the tax credit is more than your tax liability, the excess could carry over to the next year.

There are also other states, municipalities, and counties that grant additional incentives to solar energy users.

MODIFIED ACCELERATED COST RECOVERY SYSTEM

One of the benefits of switching to solar energy for business owners is MACRS (8). This system allows commercial customers to depreciate the cost of a solar energy system for years.

Depreciation refers to the reduction of value over the years an asset is connected to an investment project such as solar panels. It's mostly due to a lower quality of performance resulting from prolonged use.

MACRS lets businesses deduct the installation cost from their taxable income for half a decade. The benefit allows them to save money to recover the cost of their expenses quickly.

PROPERTY ASSESSED CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM

Areas covered by the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (PACE) allow businesses to fully finance (9) the cost of their solar panels for one to two decades. Each year, you will repay a percentage of the total cost through an assessment added on your tax bill. Since your energy savings may be more than your tax payments, you can save more money.

TAX EXEMPTIONS

There are states that do not include solar projects in tax assessments. But nearly 40 states (10) offer tax exemptions for installations in some capacity. You can still benefit from an increase in your property’s value by installing solar energy systems even though it won’t yield tax breaks.


HOW TO MAKE MONEY FROM SOLAR PANELS

It’s easy to understand why solar energy has been a focus of global discussion surrounding solutions for global warming and other environmental problems. However, going green is not the only reason why you should hop on the solar energy bandwagon. Solar energy also provides potential sources of revenue.

SELLING ENERGY BACK TO THE GRID

A power grid is a network of cables, generators, and equipment that brings electricity to homes from the source of electricity production. Usually, electricity comes from a power plant powered by nonrenewable sources of energy such as coal.

Renewable energy offers a great alternative to this process. More than 40 states allow households to produce electricity through solar projects and receive payments from power companies for the excess energy they add to the grid.

This process is net metering.

So, if you produce solar energy in excess of your household (or corporate) use, this energy is sold to users by way of the grid. This income can represent a significant source of revenue or save you hundreds of dollars (11) annually on your electricity bills.


SWITCH TO SOLAR ENERGY

Using solar energy may seem complicated but is actually more straightforward than you think. When it comes to producing electricity, you should choose renewable and money-saving options, such as solar energy, to meet your energy needs.

The possibilities and benefits of solar panels are increasing. You will not only help the environment, but you also receive several bonuses, including reduced energy and tax costs as well as a source of revenue. There is no better time to switch to solar energy than today.

Do you have experience with using or installing solar energy systems? Please tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

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