Are you thinking about buying a solar panel system but don’t know where to start? You came to the right place!
We’ve created a guide that covers everything you need to know about buying solar panels and components, making it easy to figure out the right solar solution for you. With this guide in hand, you’ll be ready to make confident, informed decisions – and find the best, most affordable solar components for your project.
How to buy solar panels:
- Find solar panels for sale
- Discover what you need to set up a solar energy system
- Learn what type of solar panels to buy
- Determine what equipment is necessary for a solar panel system
Solar Panel Purchasing Guide
Where Can You Buy Solar Panels?
The most common source for solar panels is a solar company, which serves as a certified dealer and installer of solar products from major manufacturers. If you have friends, family, or neighbors that recently installed solar panels, you might have opted for this route.
However, many people don’t realize that you can also buy solar panels directly from a distributor. When you purchase from a solar distributor, you’ll typically have the option to purchase either a solar panel kit or the individual components for a solar energy system. Then, you can hire an installer or do a DIY solar installation if you are qualified and feel comfortable.
Benefits of Buying Solar Panels from a Distributor
So why would you purchase solar panels from a distributor over a solar company? Depending on your needs and preferences, working with a distributor could come with several advantages, such as:
- Affordability: Because you’re essentially cutting out the “middle man,” you can score some serious savings on solar panels and components. Solar companies have to buy the parts from a manufacturer and then sell the products to customers at a markup to make a profit. But when you purchase directly from a distributor, you can trim costs.
- Flexibility: Whether you’re installing solar panels for an RV, an outdoor space, or your home or business, devising the best solar solution isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Working with a distributor lets you be in control of every detail so that you can choose the parts and system setup that works best for you.
- Access to a wide variety of solar products: Hiring a solar company means that your choices will be limited to the brands and products they work with, even though other items might be higher quality or better suited to your needs. A distributor (especially one that operates nationwide) often offers a far broader range of products, such as the most efficient solar panels, batteries, and other top-quality options.
How to Buy Solar Panels
By now, you’re well-versed in where you can buy solar panels – but how do you go about choosing and purchasing all of the components? We’re going to walk you through every step of the process now.
1. Decide between professional vs. DIY solar installation.
Depending on your experience, skill level, and even how much time you have, you’ll first need to determine if it’s better to hire a professional installer or try a DIY installation.
It’s important to know that it is possible to purchase your solar energy system from a distributor and then choose an installer – you don’t necessarily have to buy the products from the installation team. Some installers are willing to work with products you buy independently, so long as they approve of the items and all components are present.
Whichever you choose, your next steps will be to determine which solar products to buy.
2. Learn what types of solar panels to buy for your project.
Before you can start planning out your solar energy system, you’ll need to understand your options for solar panels.
There are three basic types of solar panels:
- Polycrystalline (also called multi-crystalline)
Each solar panel type is unique in its efficiency, flexibility, size, cost, and solar cell makeup. Weighing the pros and cons of solar panel types will help you select the right fit. For example:
- The advantages of monocrystalline solar panels include outstanding performance and the highest efficiency level. The drawbacks of monocrystalline solar panels mainly center on the cost – this type is generally associated with the highest upfront cost compared to others.
- The benefit of polycrystalline solar panels is that they are an affordable alternative to monocrystalline. However, one disadvantage of polycrystalline solar panels is that they aren’t quite as efficient as the top-of-the-line monocrystalline panels.
- Finally, thin-film solar panel benefits include portability and flexibility. In terms of the downsides of thin-film solar panels, they do have the lowest power output and efficiency.
Ultimately, the best kind of solar panel is the one that delivers a balance of pros and cons that fits your needs but it’s also important to consider the price of solar panel as well as the solar tax credit.
3. Know what other equipment is necessary for a solar panel system.
What else do you need for a solar energy system besides solar panels? If you’re planning a DIY solar installation, you’ll need to remember to buy all of the components – which isn’t difficult when you’re shopping through a distributor.
Here’s a handy shopping list for solar system components, in addition to panels:
- Inverter: The inverter will convert direct current (DC) energy from solar panels into the alternating current (AC) electricity that will power your home or business.
- Battery: With a deep-cycle battery, you’ll be able to store any extra energy your system generates. Instead of feeding it back into the grid – and losing out on the energy your panels made – you can keep it stored in the battery for future use.
- Wiring: Solar panel wiring connects your system to your electrical panel.
- Solar charge controller: The charge controller prevents batteries from overcharging by regulating overall voltage.
- Mounting system: The solar panel mounting system is essential for securing and stabilizing solar panels in the proper position.
- Other components: Depending on your setup, you might also want to consider electrical enclosures, meters, and other parts.
You can buy all solar energy parts individually or opt for a solar power system kit. These systems include all components for different setup options, including off-grid and grid-tie solar power systems.
4. Determine how many solar panels your project requires.
How many solar panels do you need for a home or business? As you would probably guess, the number of solar panels depends on key factors such as:
- The size of the property
- Usable roof space (or un-shaded ground space if you’re considering ground-mounted solar panels)
- Amount of direct sunlight available
- Energy usage which can often be found on your utility companies energy bill
- Electric rates found on your utility bill
- Type of solar panel
- Solar panel efficiency rating
- The long term total cost of ownership
One of the most common questions we receive is, “How many solar panels do I need?” Figuring this out will be one of the more time-consuming parts of buying solar panels, but it’s worth the time and effort if you do it right. Here’s how to estimate the size of the solar energy system needed for your project:
- Calculate how much energy your home or business currently uses using our kWh calculator.
- Evaluate available roof or ground space and the amount of sunlight your property receives.
- Assess the estimated yield of solar panels in your area to help you estimate system size.
- Understand the wattage of the solar panels you’re considering and that you won’t get the total rated output from them all day.
- Divide the wattage of the solar energy system you’re planning by the wattage of your chosen panels and add about 30%. This will give you an estimated number of solar panels for your project.
Solar Panels: Frequently-Asked Questions
Need an at-a-glance reference for solar panel basics? We have you covered with these solar panel FAQs.
What Shapes, Sizes, and Types Do Solar Panels Come in?
Solar panels vary in length and width and are typically less than 2 inches thick. As their power output has increased over the years, so too has their physical footprint (length x width). While some panels available today can be lifted and moved around by just one person, more and more are becoming large enough to require two people to maneuver them. The largest panels (8 feet long or panels that ship on 8-foot pallets) are long enough to incur an oversize shipping charge from many shipping carriers. You can read more about the increasing size of solar panels on our blog.
- Framed solar panels are the industry standards. They are the most cost-effective and applicable for most home solar panel applications.
- Foldable solar panels are lightweight (less than 5 pounds) and can fold up and fit easily in a backpack.
- Flexible (or rollable) solar panels are also lightweight but bulkier than foldable panels. Many people use these rollable solar panels on boats because they are durable and can be easily stowed after use.
Generally, thin-film laminate types of solar panels (foldable & flexible) are more expensive per watt and require more square footage to produce the same wattage of an equally sized framed module.
What Size Solar Panels Do I Need for My Home and How Many?
The number of solar panels you will need depends primarily upon the amount of electricity you are trying to produce and the insolation in your area. Solar insolation can be thought of as the number of hours in the day that the solar panel will produce its rated output. This is not equivalent to the number of daylight hours. Check out our Solar Insolation Map for the USA.
You’ll find solar panels in a variety of wattages. Watts are the main measure of a solar panel, along with nominal voltage. For a rough idea of how many watts of solar panels you will need for your home, start by dividing your electrical usage (in Watt-hours per day) by the solar insolation in your area (using the insolation map linked above). Bump that number up by 30-50% (to cover system inefficiencies), and you’ll have an idea of the number of Watts of solar panels total you will need. If that number is more than 1000 Watts, you are talking about $4K to $8K or more for the solar electric system. (Could we take this opportunity to mention the importance of improving energy efficiency at home again?!) If you could still use a little help with the math, please give us a call at 877-878-4060 and tell us how much electricity you are trying to produce (in kWh/month or Watt-hours/ day) and your location, and we’ll help get you started.
What Types of Solar Panels Are There?
Most solar panels can be classified as monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or amorphous. This is based on the silicon structure that comprises the cell. It’s not quite as complicated as it sounds. A 300-Watt monocrystalline solar panel should have the same output as a 300-Watt polycrystalline solar panel and a 300-Watt amorphous solar panel. The main difference is the amount of area that the solar panel occupies. Because the monocrystalline structure is more efficient than amorphous (and only very slightly more so than polycrystalline) in turning sunlight into electricity, the amorphous solar panel of the same wattage will be physically larger. When talking about the efficiency of solar panels, keep in mind that solar panel efficiency is still only about 16-20% efficient in turning sunlight into electricity. Often amorphous solar panels are less expensive than crystalline panels. If space is not an issue, an amorphous panel could be a great option. Additionally, amorphous solar panels perform better than crystalline solar panels in very hot temperatures and are slightly more tolerant of partial shading.
Can I Use Solar Energy for Home Heating & Cooling?
Please keep in mind that solar panels produce electricity and should not be used to produce electricity for heating or cooling sources. If heating is your main issue, explore the resources on this website for Solar Air Heaters and Solar Water Heaters in the Other Renewables section here in our Resource Library. Solar air heating and solar water heating are examples of solar thermal technologies which produce heat but not electricity (and are much more cost-effective than solar panels). While solar electric panels are not an economically feasible choice to power your air conditioning, a solar panel can power an attic fan that can help reduce the amount of time you use your AC.
What is the Best Placement for Solar Panels?
A key factor in the effective use of solar electricity is the proper placement of solar panels. Make sure to locate the panels where they will receive full sunlight between 10 am and 3 pm. Be sure that the solar panels will not be shaded by shadows from tree branches, chimneys, other structures, etc. Once again – AVOID SHADE! You will be mounting the solar panels on the roof, the ground, or a pole.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
Solar panels themselves last for decades and require little to no maintenance. Many of the first solar panels produced in the 50s are still in use today. Most solar panels manufactured today have a 25-year warranty on power production. A typical warranty states that the panels will produce at least 80% of their rated power after 25 years.
What Else Will I Need With a Solar Panel?
In addition to the solar panel mounting hardware, there are additional components that you will need for a safe installation. Suppose you plan on using just one solar panel in a battery-based system (an off-grid system). In that case, you will need a solar charge controller and overcurrent protection to protect each significant component of your system: solar panels, solar charge controller, deep cycle batteries, and inverter. If you plan on using more solar panels in your system, you will also need to safely wire the photovoltaic solar panels together and to the charge controller. An easy and safe way to do this is by using MC (multi-contact) connectors. These connectors connect to the cables coming from the solar panel and can be cut in half to expose bare wire. Combiner & pass-through boxes collect the bare ends of the wire from multiple solar panels; then, from the combiner box, you can run just one set of wires to the solar charge controller. You will need an appropriate-sized breaker for each series string of solar panels.
Get More Information About DIY Solar Panel Systems
Are you feeling excited about what solar energy can offer you? There’s so much to learn about the possible benefits of solar panels, your options for solar panels, and more – and we have it all in our Resource Library.
For more than two decades, altE has been a leading provider of solar components for residential and commercial solar panel installation, making it easy to source and plan your system at a reasonable price. When it comes to solar energy expertise, no other company can compare.
If you want more details about how to design your renewable energy system, you can connect with our team for one-on-one support anytime. Call our expert solar staff at altE, Monday through Friday at 877-878-4060, with any questions you may have about buying solar panels.