Looking to live a little more green? Investing in sustainable choices for your daily life can have a multitude of benefits!
That’s why we’re here to help you discover how to implement sustainable choices with ease. Whether you’re looking to identify organic foods or want to discover new ways to defend organic standards, we have tons of articles to offer the insight into sustainability you’re looking for.
One of the most beneficial green choices we hope you make is investing in clean energy. A solar energy setup can be an easy way to live a little more green, especially with a really good solar panel. Solar panels can be a fantastic investment for a multitude of reasons, but a more green lifestyle is definitely the top one!
There is a ton of great tech out there today that can provide solar energy alternatives to damaging fuel-based energy. However, like many consumers, you may be at a loss when it comes to understanding this technology and where to start before taking the plunge into purchasing your own solar panel.
If you’re looking for a beginner’s guide to solar panels, you’ve come to the right place! This article is the perfect place to start if you’ve ever wanted to make solar panels a part of your everyday life.
We’re going to cover everything you need to know about solar panels, how they function, their pros and cons, and everything you need to know before you buy. We’ll even leave some product recommendations for you so you can start your journey. Let’s dive in!
Best Overall Solar Panels
If you’re looking for a solid, well-reviewed investment, we recommend the following products:
1. Renogy 100 Watt 12-Volt Panel
We’ll start our list with a panel from one of the most trusted names in solar – Renogy. This panel is a great representation of why Renogy is such a popular brand – it’s functional, efficient, and quite durable.
This is Renogy’s most popular panel option. It’s a 100-Watt, 12-volt panel of monocrystalline design. Monocrystalline is considered the most efficient type of panel for generating energy (more on this below).
Its high efficiency design actually makes it smaller than most 100W solar panels, meaning it takes up less space, and you can generate more power with the same-sized setup. This is especially great when space is limited (such as on top of an RV or boat).
It’s also highly durable, and can withstand any outdoor conditions, including winds up to 2400Pa and snow loads up to 5400 Pa. It has a corrosion-resistant frame, so the entirety of the panel is protected from the elements. It’s built to last for 25-years of reliable power.
We could go on and on about what makes this panel great, but we’ve got to move on to other products! It’s simply an efficient, durable, and high-performing panel. You can’t go wrong here.
- Very efficient monocrystalline design.
- Smaller than most 100W panels.
- Durable and built to last 25 years.
- Keep in mind these are only panels, and you’ll need more accessories for a full system.
2. WEIZE 200-Watt 2-Pack
WEIZE is another brand that we really like. Their panels are highly efficient, and an excellent value choice. An example of this great value is right here, with a 200-Watt 2-pack.
When it comes to solar power, it’s all about matching your usage requirements with the power that you generate. This power is measured in wattage, and you’ll need more wattage if you intend to generate more power. This 200W pack is great for those who need more power than the standard 100W design.
These panels are no slouch either. They’re made with monocrystalline design which generates power with 21% efficiency (that’s really good) in ideal conditions. They are built to generate up to 300-600 Wh (watt hours) per day and a 5.3 amp power.
The panels are also very durable, with anodized aluminum frames, tempered glass, and a sealed junction box. They are built for a long life outdoors, and will require very little maintenance.
- Value pack for 200W of power.
- Highly durable and efficient panels.
- Extensive warranty and great customer service.
- You have to be sure you actually require this much power. Most people start with a smaller set-up and grow as their needs expand.
3. LG 365W NeON 2 Solar Panel for Home
Next up, we have two of the most powerful solar products on our list (this and the panel below). These solar panels are more suited to home or commercial use, and are not quite as portable as the panels above, due to their size. But if you’re looking for an extensively powerful panel, then give these some consideration.
The first panel is from LG. The 365W NeON 2 is their best-selling residential panel.
As you can imagine, a 365W panel will generate much more power than most of the options above. Of course, the main trade-off is that it’s also a lot bigger than most panels above. It has 10×6 solar cells, and is meant to be placed on the roof of a residential or commercial building.
It’s a very impressive panel, and was designed with LG’s award-winning monocrystalline Cello technology. Cello technology uses the back of the cells to generate additional power, using the light beam reflected from the rear of the module.
It is built to be efficient and to stay efficient for a long time. In fact, LG has a performance warranty which guarantees 90.1% of initial efficiency after 25 years, which is almost unheard of.
Overall, a very well-designed panel, which is one of the most efficient generators we’ve seen. They’re more expensive than most panels, but you’re investing in a panel that is built to last.
- Built to last – 90.1% performance after 25 years.
- Cello technology uses rear of panel to generate power.
- Built with thinner wires to blend into roof.
- Extensive warranty.
- Premium price.
4. Canadian Solar HiDM
Canadian Solar is another brand that we really like. The HiDM panel was designed for those with higher energy needs. Like the LG panel above, this was designed for home or commercial use, and has a power range of 320-420W (depending on lighting conditions). Of course, it’s also much bigger than most of the panels above.
This is a great all-around panel, and an example of quality workmanship. It is made with high density monocrystalline technology for great efficiency. It is designed to have less hot spots, and perform better in shaded areas. Even the cables were designed to be optimal length, to prevent energy loss along the wires.
Canadian Solar is a trusted brand, and their products are backed up with a 25-year warranty for power output, and a 15-year warranty for materials and installation. A company that stands behind their products is one of the surest signs of quality.
Overall, another excellent choice, and among the most powerful panels on our list. If you want to set up a more extensive solar panel system, then give this one a try.
- Very powerful panels.
- Built with high-density monocrystalline.
- Cables optimized to prevent energy loss.
- Extensive warranty.
- Quite large. Make sure you need this much power.
5. Renogy 100 Watt Extremely Flexible Solar Panel
You’ll immediately notice one thing about this panel – it’s very flexible. This flexible design makes it much easier to set up on uneven surfaces, taking a lot of the hassle out of installation. It also weights 70% less than traditional panels, so it’s very portable as well.
But the best part is that you don’t need to sacrifice performance for this flexible design. It’s made with impressive monocrystalline design, which generates power just as efficiently as thicker panels.
And despite its fragile appearance, it’s an impressively durable panel, and can withstand harsh outdoor conditions. It was tested for winds of up to 2400Pa and snow loads up to 5400Pa.
Overall, it’s extremely impressive for such a thin (1/10 of an inch!) and flexible panel. But do be aware that you are paying a premium for this advanced design.
- As efficient as traditional solar panels.
- Monocrystalline design.
- Surprisingly durable.
- Easier to install on uneven surface.
- More expensive than traditional panels.
6. Neopowa 180 Watt Solar Panel
Here’s a panel from another brand we are quite fond of – Neopowa. This is quite a powerful panel, coming in at 180W. It offers great value for such a powerful panel, and is great for those who want to build a more extensive solar set up.
Its monocrystalline design makes it very efficient for generating a powerful wattage. The best thing you can say about a solar panel is that it does what it’s supposed to do, and this one definitely does.
It’s very durable to withstand any harsh conditions. It’s rated for 2400Pa of wind, a snow and hail load of 5400Pa, and an IP65 splash rating.
- More powerful than the standard 100W panel.
- Very strong and durable.
- Great value.
- Might be too powerful for some.
What is a Solar Panel?
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s break down exactly what solar panels are and how they help create solar power.
The concept of solar energy has been around for over 100 years. In its first iteration, solar energy was normally harnessed through the production of steam that was used to power machinery. However, when the photovoltaic effect was discovered by Edmond Becquerel in 1893, the first solar cell was able to be developed.
As we know them today, a solar panel is a device that uses photovoltaics (VC) technology to turn sunlight into electricity. Solar panels can capture thermal energy from the sun and convert it via photovoltaic cells into energy.
Solar panels are composed of several solar cells, typically made of silicon, phosphorus, and boron. These panels absorb photons from sunlight to create electric currents.
These solar cells are housed between two layers of encapsulation resting on a back sheet, keeping the cells insulated and safe. These layers are mounted on a frame, usually made of a metal like aluminum, with a glass layer on top. These make up the panels that a consumer would mount to their home or hook up a generator to store captured solar energy.
Solar panels tend to utilize two different types of solar cells, polycrystalline and monocrystalline:
Polycrystalline Solar Panel
These solar panels are made of silicon, made by melting together different fragments of silicon to create a cell. These panels tend to have a lower price point, as they can be less efficient than monocrystalline solar panels.
Monocrystalline Solar Panel
These solar panels are made with silicon like polycrystalline, but the difference here is that they are cut from a single crystal. These panels are usually made of higher grade silicon’s and are more efficient than polycrystalline, but as such, they have a higher price point.
Typically, solar panels are a part of a larger solar energy system. You would hook up your solar panels to either a solar generator, designed to capture and store solar energy for on the go use, or an inverter in your home, designed to convert energy into a form to run your household.
However, many solar panels today are equipped with outlets to charge small devices without additional equipment. In this guide, we’re sticking to looking at some basic solar panels that can be integrated into different solar power setups and/or charge devices on the go.
What Are the Benefits of Investing in Solar Panels?
Now that we know more about solar panels, let’s determine if they are right for you! There is a multitude of benefits to investing in solar panels as a part of a clean energy system:
Renewable, Clean Energy
No more depending on finite resources! With solar energy, you can be rest assured that your energy isn’t only clean and sustainable- it’s also infinite and free!
Unlike fossil fuels and oils used to power most generators, the sun can be harvested continually without negatively impacting the environment. You can live your life knowing you’re not producing greenhouse gasses or polluting water systems to power your home.
Lower Your Bills
Even if living a life more green isn’t in your best interest, having some more green in your wallet just might be! By investing in a solar energy system, you’ll be able to depend less on your utility provider, leading to big savings on your monthly energy bill.
The more energy your system can produce, the less traditional power you’ll need. This can become especially beneficial if you want a solar energy system for an on the go lifestyle.
If you’re looking for some remote power during RV trips or camping, fueling a traditional generator with gas can be expensive. With a solar generator and solar panel set up, you can easily source power anywhere you are, with no additional cost.
Improve Property Value
Though creating and installing a solar panel setup on your home can be costly, it could offer a great return on investment in the long run. Homes with built-in solar panels and solar power systems tend to sell for more money than those without it.
A study conducted by Berkeley Lab in the United States determined that homes equipped with solar energy systems tend to increase in value by approximately $15,000-$20,000 depending on the state they were in.
Remote Power in Emergencies
Whether you live in an environment prone to natural disasters or are simply looking to keep your home and family safe, solar energy can offer some peace of mind.
Being without power for an extended period of time can be dangerous in emergency scenarios. With solar panel energy set up, you can rest assured that you will be able to power your devices and appliances off-the-grid.
For an even bigger return on investment, you can thank federal tax credits for investing in green energy! There are different federal income tax credits available for both residents and businesses looking to invest in solar panels and other green energy setups to be more energy-efficient.
You can explore the different tax credits available. Depending on your options, these tax credits could be leveraged to justify investing in a larger setup, helping you save on cost.
What Are the Cons of Investing in Solar Panels?
Now that we’ve looked at the benefits, we also have to look at the drawbacks. Here are some of the cons of investing in solar panels:
Even a small solar panel can end up being expensive. If you’re looking to invest in solar panels, especially ones that are capable of powering a whole family home, you should expect to spend into the $1000s.
Not only will you need to invest in solar panels, but you’ll also need to look into generators, inverters, and other equipment that make up the entirety of your solar power set up.
Though the upfront cost is high, these systems tend to pay for themselves in the long run, especially when you factor in reducing energy bill costs.
Energy Dependent on Weather
Though access to the sun is widely available, it isn’t foolproof! The amount of power your solar panels will provide will depend on their access to direct sunlight.
Before you invest in your solar panels, it’s good to determine how much direct sunlight they can access a day. If you live in a climate that tends to be cloudy and rainy, you may not get the energy levels you desire out of your panels.
The same is true if you create a setup that is prone to shade or blocked sunlight. If trees heavily shade your house, you may want to factor in how they’ll affect the amount of energy that can be captured by your solar panel.
Suppose your energy needs depend on power access 100%of the time. In that case, you’ll have to either build a setup capable of storing reserve power to carry you through those cloudy days or look into additional power sources. Pairing your solar power setup with other sustainable energy sources, such as wind-powered energy, can help you solve these issues!
Solar Panels Take Up Space
Solar panels aren’t small! With most panels sized at around 3ft x 7ft, you’ll need to ensure you have the space to store your set up.
If you’re building an at-home setup, consider the surface area you have available on your roof to mount your panels. If you’re looking for panels to take on the go, consider the space you’ll need in your packing. Many on-the-go panels come in easily foldable designs that can make them perfect for easy trunk storage if you’re taking your solar energy system on the road.
What to Know Before You Buy?
Before you make a decision on which solar panel company you want to purchase your product from, we’ve wanted to outline a few key things to know before you buy:
Are Your Panels Compatible With Your Generator/Inverter?
As we stated earlier, solar panels often need to be paired with a generator or inverter as a part of a larger energy set up. Though some panels have direct outputs for charging small electronics and appliances, providing power to multiple devices/appliances requires additional hardware.
Before your purchase your solar panels, you’ll want to make sure they are compatible with your other tech. The main thing you need to keep an eye on is your generator device’s wattage and how it compares to your panels’ wattage.
If you buy solar panels that are higher in wattage than your generator, they won’t be compatible. So, for example, if you have a 600-watt generator, you can look to connect up to 6 individual 100-watt panels. If you want to add more panels, you’ll need to up the watts on your energy storage system.
How Many Panels Will You Need?
As we discussed above, the number of panels you can invest in depends on the size of your generator system. But the larger question here becomes, how many panels/how many watts do you need for your energy needs?
To determine how many panels you’ll want to purchase, you’ll first need to determine what kind of power you need. The more devices/appliances you have, the more power you’ll need.
If you’re looking for a basic on-the-go setup, a single panel and generator can be useful for powering lights or charging small devices while camping or RVing. However, if you want to power your home, you’ll need to determine how much power your personal electronics, appliances, and devices need.
Thankfully, there are a ton of great resources online to help you figure out what you’ll need. Try using a Solar Panel Calculator to figure out your energy consumption.
Is There a Manufacturer’s Warranty?
Since solar panels are so expensive, it’s worth ensuring that a warranty covers you in case of any damage to your panels. Most reputable solar panel companies will offer some kind of warranty period.
Finding a warranty that can cover up to 25 years can ensure you’re covered for the entire lifetime of your panels. To really play it safe, investing in larger brands will help you make sure these brands stick around throughout the entire lifetime of your panels.
Can I Use Solar Net-Metering?
Net-metering, also known as net energy metering, can help you save some major money with your new solar setup. A Net Energy Metering billing structure means a homeowner is allowed to store energy within an electric grid. The extra energy you generate can be exchanged for a credit against future energy consumption, saving you money on your bill.
This means that even on those days when the clouds are limiting your solar energy supply, you can still save cost, using your backed-up energy “credit” towards your utility bill when using your cities utilities to power your home.
This will also ensure that the energy your panels generate never goes to waste, even if you’re not using it. Your energy will be sent to your utility electricity provider to cover other consumers, giving you credit towards your own electricity costs.
If you live entirely off the grid, this billing structure may not be useful. However, for those looking to use solar panels as a supplement to already available power or as a backup, net metering can be another great way to save on cost and provide clean energy in your community. Just be sure your utility provider offers this service.