Solar panels do magic up there on the roof turning the rays of the sun into electric energy. It’s amazing. And, it’s only getting better. Better?! Yes, better. There are improvements to solar panels making them more efficient all the time.
The modern solar panel was introduced in 1954 as a product of Bell Laboratory. Three of the company’s scientists – Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chapin and Gerald Pearson – used silicon to create a source for collecting solar energy. It was a stable and reliable source of energy but it was hardly efficient. And it was expensive – really expensive.
Congressional act promotes development
In 1978, Congress enacted the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act and the Energy Tax Act. This was the government’s first step towards promoting and encouraging the development and increased use of solar energy. As a result, by the 1990s, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed a photovoltaic (PV) panel, using gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide, that achieved an incredible efficiency rating of 30 percent. Unfortunately, it was not a reasonable panel for mass production.
In 2000, Sandia Laboratories improved the efficiency of solar panels with the development of an inverter that converts the Direct Current (DC) of solar panels to the Alternating Current (AC) that is used in homes. The advancement launched the solar panel industry as a serious alternative to complete reliance on the electricity generated by utility companies.
Solar panels today generally produce more than 20 percent efficiency ratings. While companies developing solar panels are consistently seeking to improve on efficiency, improvements to solar panels are already at hand in terms of mass production. Hand-in-hand, with mass production, the costs of solar panels has come down dramatically.
Panels today are lighter and easier to install. There are also improvements in the inverters, including hybrid string inverters and microinverters that transform the energy from DC to AC for each individual panel.
The gist is that, as solar panels continue to improve, we have already seen vast improvements to solar panels over what was available before. This is good news for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and it’s good news for homeowners and businesses that want to save on energy costs while reducing their dependence on utilities.
Solar panels maintenance: it’s a question that comes to mind when you’re thinking about adding a solar energy system to your home. You’re worried about the maintenance required with solar panels on your home’s roof. Not to worry. A solar energy system is not like a household appliance or an automobile with moving parts and the kind of wear that you’ll experience driving your car on the highway.
Solar panels are fixed in place. The only moving part is the sun, which spins in place an average of 93-million miles away from the earth. A car’s tires are rolling, starting and stopping on the pavement. That’s why most tires are warrantied for between 30,000 and 100,000 miles. Your solar panels won’t travel miles unless you count the rotation of the earth. That’s a significant number since the earth turns about 1,000 miles every hour, 24,000 miles in a day and about 8.76-million miles in a year.
But, the miles that the earth spins really don’t count because your home, and your solar panels, are spinning with the earth. Most of the potential friction comes from the air, rain, snow and occasionally hail. The first three have a very low friction coefficient. With hail, you have repeated impacts on the solar panels. It’s not really a matter of friction. Without friction, solar panels maintenance is not a major factor.
Fortunately, solar panels are built to withstand the impact of hail. They’re even designed to withstand the impact of golf balls, if you happen to live near a golf course. According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), from 2009 to 2013, approximately one-tenth of one percent of solar panel systems suffered some sort of damage due to hail and even hurricanes (depending on the quality of installation).
So, you really don’t have to worry much about maintaining your solar energy system. You should monitor production of electricity as a sudden drop in output, while it may relate to the weather, could indicate a problem where you should call in a professional to take a look. Otherwise, you really don’t even have to clean your solar panels.
(Sept. 10, 2018) Can your roof handle the weight of solar panels? Years ago, in this area of Northern Illinois, storms piled so much snow on roofs that a few roofs actually collapsed. People were taking shovels up onto their roofs and shoveling the snow to alleviate the weight. What does this mean to you as you consider putting solar panels up on your roof? Do you need to worry about the weight?
Rest assured, the answer is, No. You don’t have to worry about the weight of solar panels on your roof.
Solar panels, including all the mounting equipment, weigh about 2- to 4-pounds per square foot. That’s the one-square-foot equivalent of putting one of the following up on your roof:
- A pineapple
- A small cat
- A two-slice toaster
- A two-liter bottle of soda
- A one-quart carton of soy milk
- A medium pumpkin
- A Pomeranian
- A bowling pin
You can put any of these items up on your roof and not worry, even for a moment, that they might plunge through the roof. But, how much weight can your roof hold? Of course, a solar energy array weighs more than a pineapple. But, the weight is distributed or should be.
According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), your roof should be able to support 20-pounds of snow, per square foot, before the roof is ‘stressed.’ The IBHS goes on to explain that “10-12 inches of snow is equal to … about 5 lbs. per square foot.” However, if you have “2 feet of old snow and 2 feet of new snow” (4-feet total or 60 pounds per square foot), you could have a problem since the old snow is packed and heavier. But, when is the last time you saw 4 feet of snow on your roof?
Since you don’t have to worry about the weight of your solar panels, it’s nice to know that the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy says that snow can actually help to clean your solar panels (rain does the same thing). Of course, snow isn’t a big concern this time of year.
The real key to the question of the weight of solar panels is the distribution of weight. Properly installed, the weight is distributed across your roof to the extent that weight is never an issue. If, however, someone doesn’t install your solar panels correctly, then all bets are off and you could have trouble with your roof someday.