Instead of treating it like some expenditure, people should recognize these solar panels as investments that, just like any other investment will give back gains and returns. Technologies have changed a lot over the years and ever since, solar panels have become more efficient and compact, to the point that people these days can even use them at their home, in residential areas. Most solar kits are designed for off-grid use, meaning you’ll depend entirely on the energy your panels create — a risk for the average homeowner.

We’ve talked a lot about panels, but there are several other pieces of equipment that make up your solar energy system. Thin-film panels, while growing in popularity, are the least efficient of all and require more installation and hardware costs. This could be ideal for times when your panels are producing less power than you were originally quoted, as your payments will then fall too.

Instead of a fixed monthly payment, you’ll pay for the energy your panels produce—even if it’s more than you’ll use. The solar company pays for the equipment and installation, and technically owns the solar panels. Leasing means you’ll host the panels on your roof and pay a fixed monthly fee (it increases once a year), no matter how much energy you’re using or producing.

You’ll be saving a significantly larger percentage of electricity costs if you buy them, ( 40-79% vs 10-30% with a solar lease ). They will also investigate local, state, and federal incentives, help the customer complete the necessary paperwork to obtain those incentives, and factor those into the financial analysis.” Alexandra Hobson, from Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), agrees: It’s worth noting that there are many quality solar panels, regardless of their technology type. Also make sure to contact the company that installed your roof to check if adding solar panels may void its warranty.

SunPower backs its panels with a 25-year warranty, which covers their typical lifespan, unlike the industry standard 10 years. Its panels operate at an impressive 20.4 – 21.5% efficiency and EnergySage rated them Premium Plus, meaning they’re not only above average, but also the best of other Premium-rated panels. Cheaper panels tend to have shorter warranties, perform poorly in high temperatures, and will lose efficiency at a faster rate over time.

We valued panels with higher efficiency because they would lower those soft costs and leave a smaller imprint. The percentage we can convert now, coupled with the number of panels typically on a roof, is more than enough for powering an average household. The number of panels you’ll need will depend on your roof and energy needs, as well as the panel you select — typically, you’re looking at around 30 panels.

Residential solar panels, though all silicon-based, come in three types with varying efficiencies: monocrystalline (most efficient), polycrystalline, and thin film panels (least efficient). Different states provide different tax credits, electricity costs, performance rates, and rates of return, all of which greatly affect the financial viability of going solar. We compiled the 13 most highly-regarded nationwide residential installers from online solar marketplace EnergySage , online magazine SolarPowerWorld’s Top 500, and (basically Yelp for solar installers.) We didn’t review smaller local installers, but you can easily check what’s available in your area with EnergySage, a solar resource funded by the Department of Energy.

Rather than focusing on the specifics of individual panel mechanics, we wanted companies we could trust to get the best panel for us. Solar installers will handle everything from evaluating your home’s solar potential and coordinating your local incentives, to installing the panels and monitoring their efficiency.

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