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Solar energy has become the most abundant, useful, efficient, and environmentally friendly source of renewable energy but why are solar panels so expensive?
Recent studies have shown that the capacity of Photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation systems have increased exponentially throughout the world.
Solar Energy Has Become the In-thing
With the emerging rise of climate and global changes, solar energy has become the in-thing that is why homeowners and buildings are opting for the natural energy emitted by the sun.
Many studies have shown that PV systems will play a key role in electricity generation in the future.
This has in turn brought an increase in the economic viability and reliability of PV systems.
A number of government agencies have had initiatives to encourage the usage of solar energy technology for electricity production.
This article reviews the advancement made in the previous years in the field of monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film PV systems.
This article also provides a general understanding of power generated by PV systems and discusses research of the PV cells.
Moreover, many studies state that PV power systems will play a key role in electricity generation in the future.
Solar Energy System Components
Components set up for solar energy system includes:
- Solar Panel
- Charge Controller
Solar panels also known as PV panels are used to convert light from the sun, which is composed of particles of energy called “photons” into electricity that can be used to power electrical loads.
They’re typically made of silicon crystal slices known as cells, a glass polymer backing, and aluminum framing.
They come in varying size, shape, and color.
They’re used to power a wide variety of applications to provide solar power to homes and commercial buildings i.e. hospitals, offices, schools, etc.
While the cost of solar panels is not the only factor to consider when buying solar panels for your house ,the decision to install is another thing you must consider.
The four major components in solar energy systems are; the solar panels, inverter(s), racking, and solar battery storage units.
They are typically made of silicon crystal slices known as cells, a glass polymer backing, and aluminum framing.
Just like electricity, solar panels also have different voltage ratings, they vary from 12 or 24 volts; these are preferred for off-grid systems with battery banks.
Other solar panels come with 18, 42, and even 60 volts.
The price of most large residential or commercial PV modules can range between $2.20 and $3.40 per rated watt.
Types of Solar Panels
There are different types of solar panels and how to pick the right solar panel for you depends on cost and efficiency.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
These types of solar panels are made from quality silicon.
They produce higher performance rates compared to other types of panels.
They are efficient in occupying less space and have high output production per square foot.
Their main disadvantage is its high installation cost.
They are most suitable for warm weather conditions.front costs of all types of solar technologies.
A 200 w monocrystalline solar panel can cost between $135-$200 plus shipping charges.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
These types of solar panels are made from silicon.
It is manufactured by pouring molten silicon at the cast.
The manufacturing process creates boundaries that cause the breakage of the crystal formation.
This process of impurities in the crystal makes the panel less efficient compared to monocrystalline.
The disadvantage of this panel is that it occupies more space compared to monocrystalline which occupies less space.
A 250 w polycrystalline solar panel can cost between $190-$250 plus shipping charges.
Thin Film Solar Panels
These types of solar panels are produced by arranging photovoltaic elements in layers.
They offer low-performance rates and occupy a lot of space.
The cost of installation involved is high as their installation increases the size of the related equipment.
They are suitable for high temperatures and dry weather conditions.
A 300 w thin-film solar panel with a rollable amorphous module will cost you between $190-$250 plus shipping charges.
Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe)
This PV technology uses cadmium telluride which is a thin semiconductor layer that can convert sunlight to electricity.
Production of this panel is considered cheaper compared to the other types of panels.
It uses low amounts of water.
Their major disadvantage is the toxic nature of cells.
A roll of cadmium telluride solar cell can cost you between $35 to $50 plus shipping charges.
Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP)
Concentrated PV cell systems are known to produce power in the same way as other types of solar panels.
They use lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small junction solar cells.
Solar trackers are commonly used in concentrated PV systems.
HCPV systems are found to have the highest efficiency among all other existing PV technologies.
This technology is estimated to have the potential to offer a competitive option for solar system installation.
A roll of concentrated PV cell can cost between $80 to $150 including shipping charges.
Which solar panel type is best, monocrstalline,polycrystalline, or thin film panel?
This all depends on your solar energy needs, all these types of solar panels listed above come with varying costs.
Monocrystalline is the most expensive of all solar panels but is the most efficient.
Polycrystalline is less expensive per cell but you will end up getting slightly better efficiency depending on your budget.
Thin-film cells are relatively cheaper and easy to install which can help you save on solar energy installation cost.
Solar Charge Controller
A solar charge controller or charge regulator is a device that regulates a voltage and or a current regulator that keeps batteries from overcharging.
Its main function is to regulate the voltage-current coming from the solar panels going to the battery.
A solar charge controller ensures that power doesn’t run backward to the solar panels overnight which might, in turn, drain the batteries.
Although some inverters come with additional capabilities like lighting and load control functions, their primary job is managing the power.
Solar charge controllers have two different technologies, Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) and Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT).
Let us look at the two different controllers in-depth so that you can be able to differentiate from the two and choose the one that is suitable for you.
While choosing the right charge controller, consider the following:
Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) Inverters
There are two types of inverters that one can use depending on your needs namely; Micro Inverters and Big inverters.
When installing large panels, expect to pay $1-2 per watt plus freight shipping expenses.
Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) Inverters
You can consider an MPPT controller to be a “smart DC-DC converter.
It’s known to drop the panel voltage down to the voltage required to charge the battery.
The smart element in the DC-DC converter is the monitoring of the maximum power point of the panel which varies during the day depending on the sun strength, angle panel, temperature, shading, and the panel’s health.
The “smarts” adjusts the input voltage of the DC-Dc converter by providing a matched load to the panel.
For large controllers MPPT, you are expected to pay $400-$1,000 plus shipping.
Choosing the right Solar Controller Regulator:
- This is a good low-cost option.
- It is suitable for smaller systems
- Use it when the efficiency of the system is not critical e.g. trickle charging.
- It’s suitable for solar panels with a maximum power Vmp of up to 18 v for charging a 12 v battery.
- The MPPT controller is the best compared to PWM.
- It is suitable for larger systems where an additional 20% or more energy harvesting is required.
- It is suitable if you are using house panels for charging 12 v batteries.
- You can use it when the solar array voltage is higher than the battery voltage.
- MPPT will yield higher returns compared with PWM controllers as the panel voltage increases.
MPPT charge controllers are more expensive than PWM charge controllers and they are often worth the extra money.
Inverters are an important part of any solar panel installation because they are the brains of the system.
Your home appliances operate on AC power.
Inverters are important for taking on the responsibility of battery management.
Types of Inverters
There are three main types of inverters namely: solar, micro, string, and central inverters.
These are used when the solar panels are linked together to form a string.
A typical can be made up of as little as 3 panels or up to 20 or more panels.
DC power is pulled down the string to the inverter where it’s converted to AC power.
This is a very small inverter attached to the back of the solar panel.
It only converts one or two solar panels DC power to AC.
Generally, many microinverters are required in one complete system.
They have several advantages over string inverters including performance, safety, and monitoring, however, the upfront cost can be significantly higher.
These types of inverters are attached to each panel in a system and they are more expensive than the centralized inverters.
They come with three different sizes, small inverters, medium inverters, and large inverters.
These are perfect for solar because they use 12 v input and they have USB connections that you can use with various gadgets.
They come with various slots.
For these inverters expect to pay around $10 to $100.
These types of inverters have much cleaner power than the small inverters
They’re more expensive, expect to pay between $200 to $325.
With large controllers, you are expected to pay much more.
There are high-quality sine wave inverters.
They’re computer compatible and computer controlled.
Types of Solar Installation
There two main types of solar installation namely;
Solar On-grid (without battery storage)
These can be used directly.
They are the most common and most affordable.
This system uses a simple solar inverter which converts DC power from your solar panels into AC power which can be fed directly to the grid or can be used to your appliances.
Off-grid Solar Systems (with battery storage)
These are more complex because they involve both solar panels and battery storage.
Multiple inverters are required in the installation such as a solar inverter and battery inverter charger to manage both quick connections and the charging and discharging of the batteries.
Hybrid and Interactive inverters use off-grid and hybrid systems with battery storage and are far more complex.
A traditional off-grid system uses a simple battery inverter that converts DC power to supply more appliances.
This system needs separate battery chargers and regulators.
These are more advanced versions of battery chargers with built-in chargers known as inverter chargers.
Small hobby systems sealed acid batteries- They are fairly cheap and do not require any maintenance, they cost up to $2 per ampere on a battery.
Medium solar batteries- These kinds of batteries are one step higher than sealed acid batteries.
They are not renewable energy batteries.
These will cost you an average price of $90-$100 or so plus core chargers.
Large Systems- You will want to use batteries that are designed to handle the abuse and are very reliable, they are renewable energy.
They are very expensive, very heavy and they come in 6 volts or more but you have to put multiple batteries together in series to achieve the voltage you need.
Six Factors that Determines the Cost of a Solar Battery
Before purchasing a solar battery there are some considerations you should keep in mind before making a purchase.
To maximize your battery life, avoid the most common mistakes that consumers make, reduce costs by learning how to choose the right battery for your solar project.
One of the most important factors to consider before buying a battery is size, size here doesn’t necessarily mean the physical size though you might want to consider it based on your own spatial requirements.
Capacity generally means how much energy the battery can store.
Battery capacity is measured in units of Amp-Hour (Ah).
This means the amount of energy that a battery can hold under specified conditions.
For instance, a 12 volt 18 Ah battery can deliver one hour of 18 amperes of current at 12 volts.
You might want to consider that a battery with a low capacity and a high power rating can run your whole home that can last only for a few hours.
However, a battery with a high capacity and a low power rating can only power a few important home appliances but for a longer time.
It’s important to note that the higher the capacity and the higher the power rating, the better off your system will be.
If you are concerned about how much sun and time it takes to charge your solar battery, your best battery option would be gel batteries, as they charge very fast.
Lithium-ion batteries also take a shorter time to charge, usually 3 hours or so or maybe a little longer.
Flood lead acid batteries can take up to a whole day to charge.
The faster the battery charges, the better you are because it doesn’t take as much time for charging and you can use the solar panel much faster too.
Ease of Installation
Another factor you might want to consider before buying a solar battery is the ease of installation.
Installing batteries isn’t something you want to do if you haven’t dealt with solar panel systems before.
You will definitely need the help of a professional for installation.
If you are looking for something that is space friendly, maintenance free and relatively easy to install, you might want to consider a lithium-ion battery.
The cost of a solar battery itself is something you should keep in mind.
The more expensive the solar battery is, the better it’s performance, and the longer it will last.
A lithium-ion battery might cost way higher than the amount of an AGM or a lead flood acid battery.
It requires much less maintenance, it’s more resilient, easier to install and it features better overall performance.
Another important point to consider is the durability of the battery.
Keep in mind that the longer you use the battery the less able to hold a charge the battery will have.
Every batter you buy will come with a certain number of hours, days, and years that it can be used until it becomes obsolete and can no longer hold a charge.
These all depend on the battery type, size, and brand name.
The longer you want the battery to last, the more you will have to pay, always pay attention to the rating on the packaging.
You might want to consider how good the manufacturer’s warranty for the battery is.
It’s important to note that the more you spend on your battery, the more reputable the brand name is, the better the warranty will be.
A 20 or 30 year warranty is better than a 10 year warranty, a lifetime warranty is always the best.
Factors To Consider When Installing A Solar Energy System
Just like you plan ahead of any project, planning of solar panel installation is very key before the actual project starts.
Do research about the product
Learn about solar energy, what it all entails, where to find it, accessibility, affordability, and the market price.
You can start by visiting several website pages that are popular for solar installations within your locality like solar panels and kits for sale, local shops around you, and doing research about solar energy.
Consider the number of solar panels needed for installation because the larger the household the higher the cost of the project will be.
Choose a suitable place
You first have to choose the most suitable place where you would like to install the solar panels.
You can make a great saving by installing the solar panel on the roof of your house.
Understand solar components
The other important step is understanding the components of a solar power system.
Get multiple quotes
Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more.
Compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large solar installers in the solar industry.
Consider hardware choices
When doing a new installation, the hardware part is the most expensive.
Consider the right tools to use and their budgetary implications they will have on your project.
New panels, collectors, and batteries can amount up to 25% of the total cost of a new system.
Carefully choose the right solar panel
Choose carefully which solar energy systems are right for you.
Choose the type of solar panel that suits your project cost because the more efficient the solar panel is the more expensive the panels will be.
It’s important to stick to your budget for the project.
Solar Panel Mounting System
A solar mounting system is a component that secures solar panels on surfaces like roofs or the ground and holds them in place.
By now you have a good understanding of what a solar panel is and how a solar photovoltaic function works.
Maybe you’ve seen solar panels mounted on roofs and wondered how the system is mounted.
The mounting systems include hardware to permanently affix the array which includes either a rooftop, pole, or the ground.
These are the different types of solar mounting systems.
Rail Based Mounting Systems
This type of mounting is used for flat roofs.
Rails are secured to the roof using screws, nuts, and bolts.
Each panel is then attached to the rail.
The rail based mounting system is simple and economical.
While installing you should consider non-penetrating and lighter designs to prevent damage to your roof and reduced roof loads.
Standing Seam Mounting System
Standing Seam is the most convenient mounting type and is great for solar panels installations.
They are the easiest and simple to install as they require no penetration to the roof and fit with little trouble or effort to the panels with solar mounting clamps.
The durability and ease of use make standing-seam perfect for solar panels.
Anchored Mounting System
The anchored mounting system eliminates the use of ballast and is popular with rooftops that have weight constraints.
Wood screws are used to penetrate the roof surface and fasten to create a secure attachment.
Pole Mounting System
Pole mounting systems are best used in solar pumps, home solar systems, and other open ground solar projects.
For any pole mount, it’s important to design and pour the cement foundation properly.
Make sure the array is facing towards the direct sunlight so as to attract the sun as it moves across the sky.
A solar array on a tracker produces more energy as opposed to a fixed array.
We have explored the topic of what makes solar panels expensive and have come to the following conclusions and recommendations about solar panels depending on your energy requirements and your budget.
The Cost Of A Solar Energy System Is Determined By Several Factors:
- The budget of the project can vary from home to home, the quality and efficiency of the panels can vary, the more efficient the panel, the most expensive they will be and the most difficult to produce.
- There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best panels on the market.
- Some panels have higher efficiency ratings than others.
- The only way to find the right one for you is to evaluate the quotes with varying equipment and financial offers.
- Try out the Solar Calculator that offers upfront costs and long term savings estimates based on your location and mounting needs.
- Choose the right solar panels: There are very many types of solar panels out there in the market, depending on quality, price, and efficiency depending on your budget and needs.
- Examples include; Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline, Thin-film solar panels, Cadmium telluride solar cell (CdTe) and Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP)
Summary of the Overall Cost of Installation
Cost of raw materials is high as they use large amounts of high purity silicon.
Cost of labor is high as they require qualified installers.
They must be complemented with different components like batteries, inverters, charge controllers and mounting which increases the cost of installation.
They must be complemented with electrical control and protection in order to provide a reliable power supply.
They’re available in large quantities of supply and require less manpower expenses over other forms of energy.
Solar panels are expensive.
The cost of solar depends on the type of raw material used and manufacturing process.
The larger the system you need the more it’s going to cost you per watt.
In this article we’ve reviewed solar energy installation costs and even so it is definitely set to become economical in coming years.
The major benefit and advantage of solar energy is that it’s free and accessible to common people.
Although the cost of solar energy is high it’s distribution is projected to climb from 15 percent worldwide to 50 percent by 2050.