Updated 2016: So you have this hunch that solar energy is good for the environment (which is true), but beyond this, you're at a loss. Here are five quick solar energy facts to help guide you from solar zero to solar hero:
1. The average length of solar panel warranties is 20 to 25 years. This warrantee usually covers the panels and their ability to produce electricity at a predetermined output level. Parts and labor warranties vary from state to state. See also:
- German Solar Panel Maker Extends Warranties
- Five Things To Do After you Get Solar
- Shell Accused of Ditching Panel Warranties in Developing World
2. Energy payback: Photovoltaic (PV) panels typically recover the energy that's used in their manufacture within two to four years. Considering their lifespan is roughly 25-30 years, the panels can continue to produce clean energy for years after they have recouped their energy cost. See this breakdown from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (PDF):
3. Solar rebates and other incentives can significantly reduce system cost: There's no doubt that solar PV -- or solar electric -- systems are investments. A 1-kilowatt solar home system costs roughly between $3.25 and $4.00 before incentives; a typical residential solar system ranges between 6.0 kW and 8.5 kW. Going solar, then, is a spendy proposition. Luckily, a growing number of states -- and in some cases, utilities -- are offering solar rebates, loans and other incentives to help encourage homeowners and businesses to install renewable energy systems. Check out solar incentives in your state for more details. (And don't forget that the federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit to homeowners and businesses who install solar power systems.)
4. Southern exposure: Simple but important. For optimal system performance, solar panels should be oriented due south. Read here to learn more about the main variables that impact the performance of a solar energy system.
5. Most systems are tied to the grid: The majority of solar panel systems that are installed these days are so-called "grid-tied" systems. That is, they are interconnected with the local utility grid. When the solar panels produce more electricity than is needed on site, excess electricity flows back into the grid, crediting the owner's utility bill. When on-site demand exceeds solar production, the reverse happens: electricity is drawn from the grid and the electric meter runs in the usual direction.