Solar panels come in two main forms. The form most people think of is the photovoltaic solar panel which converts the light energy of the sun directly into electricity. The second type is the thermal solar panel. This panel collects the sun's heat energy and stores it for use in heating or power generation. Good news - new federal tax incentives for both photovoltaic and thermal solar panel purchases allow a full 30% rebate from the federal government. More information on solar panels:
Solar panels used for photovoltaics have been around for more than 50 years. They were initially developed for space applications as a source of electricity for satellites. Solar panels were ideal for this application because they could operate in harsh conditions of extreme heat and cold and had no moving parts. The best solar panel efficiency of the early models was about 8-9%. Today photovoltaic solar panels have three main types:
Thin film solar panels are the newest innovation in solar panel technology. Thin film gets its name because the solar panels are created by spraying a photovoltaic mixture onto a thin metallic substrate. One benefit is that this material can be made quickly and in great volume, similar to the way newspaper presses operate. Because thin film solar panel material is flexible, it can also be shaped and applied to a wide variety of applications. New innovations such as photovoltaic clothing are being developed. The downside of thin film is that the solar panel efficiency is about half that of the mono and poly crystalline types. This negative is counterbalanced by the much lower cost of these types of panels. Competition from thin film solar panels may indeed be the catalyst for an industry wide drop in solar panel pricing in the years to come.
Solar panels used for thermal applications are completely different than their photovoltaic cousins. Thermal solar panels use the very basic concepts of heat absorption and conduction of liquid to transfer the suns heat energy where it is needed. The most common use of thermal solar panels is for solar water heating. Simple solar panel collectors are placed on the roof of the home. Water heated by the sun is moved to storage tanks ready for use in showering or dish washing or in the hot tub or pool. Because most household energy is used to heat hot water, deploying thermal solar panels is usually the most efficient initial use of solar energy.
Solar panel kits are a great way to get started with solar power. Solar panel prices have come down and efficiency has risen in the last few years. New modular solar panel design makes it much easier to assemble the panels along with the other kit components into a working system. DIY solar has grown exponentially because of these technical advances.
Solar panel installers are available to consult with you about solar panel installation on your home or business. They specialize in solar panel system sizing and location. Installers will study your site by looking at aerial photographs (some use Google Earth very effectively). Because shading is a big problem for solar panels, they will ensure the system is not blocked by trees or chimneys throughout the day.