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Solar Panels

Whether you are ecologically minded or just hate to keep paying the electricity bill, solar power may be your answer. Solar panels converts energy from the sun into hot water or electricity. Among the reasons for using solar panels are:
  • they are pollution free and maintenance free (generally 25-40 year life)
  • grants/subsidies/rebates from government and manufacturers reduce the sizeable initial investment
  • you can sell excess electricity to your local utility
Solar panels are of two kinds: either they convert sunlight into electricity or they use the warming power of the sun to heat water.

Making Electricity

Solar panels with photovoltaic (PV) cells are used to make electricity. When sunlight strikes these cells, direct current (DC) electricity is produced. Consequently, PV's only create electricity during periods of sunlight, with the peak amount of electricity generated midday on a sunny day and declining with weather and darkness. Converters transform the current into standard household voltage (120V AC).

PV systems can be used stand alone, with batteries, or tied into the local utility grid (for drawing power and for selling excess power). Stand alone systems are intended for remote locations where no utility connection is available. Batteries enable storing of electricity for use at darkness or in cloudy weather; however, battery systems are an additional expensive. Connection to the local utility allows you to sell excess power during the day and to draw on the utility's power at night and during cloudy weather -- thereby using the power company as your "battery."

PV systems are an expensive investment and take up a significant roof area. A panel generates about 10 watts per square feet under optimal conditions, so plan according to the amount of energy you wish to produce and the sunlight conditions in your area.

Making Hot Water

A different style of solar panels can be used to create hot water for heating swimming pools, for domestic use, or for radiant heating. These units collect heat and transfer it to water that circulates through them. Inexpensive systems can be used to meet the demands of a heated pool. To meet the higher heating demand of domestic hot water, the panels are connected in series with a conventional water heater and work by boosting the incoming water temperature (sometimes to 100% of target) in order to reduce the heating requirements of the conventional water heater. For radiant heating systems, even larger quantities of water are required, and so water heated by the solar panels is feed into storage tanks for redistribution.

Choosing a the Right Panels

Once you've decided how you are going to use solar power, you may find it helpful to compare manufacturers' offerings along these lines:
  • electricity or hot water efficiency per dollar cost of unit
  • if space is a concern, the efficiency per square foot
  • weight of panels
  • ease of expandability
  • cost of related equipment (transformers, batteries, grid connections, etc.)
  • ease of installation or cost of professional system design and installation
  • warranties

Northern Industrial Tools 30 Amp Charge Controller

Northern Industrial Tools 30 Amp Charge Controller

Links multiple solar panels together. Ideal when adding more than 110 Watts of solar power. Can be used for up to 450 Watts of solar power. Limited lifetime warranty.

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