They’re seemingly everywhere these days, from massive roadside facilities to the roofs of your neighbors’ RVs. We’re talking about solar panels, the key elements of a renewable, green solar power system. While most folks may be familiar with this popular technology, they may not understand the many benefits of solar panels. We’re breaking down what you need to know about them and what solar panels can do for you.

solar panels on van

What Are Solar Panels? 

At their most basic, solar panels are devices that harness and collect the energy of the sun’s rays and convert that into usable electricity. Chances are you’ve seen them — large, shiny, black or blue rectangles often mounted on roofs or in solar arrays. 

Solar panels come in three primary styles, monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film or flexible. Monocrystalline panels are black and generally the most efficient at producing energy. However, they’re also the most expensive. Blue-hued polycrystalline panels are more affordable but don’t produce power as efficiently. 

The third category is a more recent one, consisting of new flexible solar panels with solar cells attached to a flexible backing. This offers users a much lighter panel and significantly more versatility in how they can mount them. Unfortunately, these thin-film panels have a much shorter lifespan than traditional ones. 

Solar panels generate direct current (DC) energy, which flows to a solar charge controller. This device regulates the movement of energy between the panels and the electrical system or any battery storage. 

In some situations, you can use DC for other purposes. However, in many cases, you’ll have to convert it to AC (alternating current) through an inverter to power many typical devices. Once all this occurs, you have access to electricity just like any other kind that would come out of your outlets, except that you generated it from the sun.

How Expensive Are Solar Panels?

Price is often one of the biggest concerns for those interested in setting up a solar power system. Individual solar panels span a wide price range, from less than $100 for small, portable panels to $1,000 or more for large, high-end ones. Generally, you should work backward from how much energy you’d like to generate to determine how many panels you’ll need and, therefore, your overall cost. 

solar panel up close

Keep in mind that your panels aren’t your only cost. You’ll need to purchase a variety of associated equipment like batteries, wiring, mounting systems, and more. Depending on your desired features, this can easily add several hundred to several thousand dollars to your system’s cost. Don’t forget the cost of installation and setup for your solar power system, assuming you cannot do it yourself. 

The average home solar power system will cost somewhere between $10,000 and $25,000, including parts and installation. Smaller systems for RVs, boats, and other small off-grid power applications can be much less. Solar panel kits are an easy way to get all the components you need in a convenient bundle and can cost just a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars.

Where your system falls in this wide range will depend on how much energy you’d like to generate and the particulars of availability and demand in your area. 

5 Reasons You Should Get Solar Panels

So why should you bother investing the time and money to install solar panels on your house, RV, or boat? There are many incredible benefits of solar panels, including these five significant ones. 

1. Renewable Energy Source

There’s nothing you can count on like the fact that the sun will come up each day. This inescapable fact of life is one of the most significant benefits of solar energy. Traditional power is generated by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.

These energy sources are created so slowly that humanity effectively has a limited amount available to us, a primary reason for current and future issues with cost and availability. On top of that, they release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.

Solar energy has none of these issues. Panels will continue to generate energy indefinitely from the inexhaustible source of the sun’s rays. Even better, this process is entirely green, creating power with no carbon emissions. Most solar panels can withstand a decade or more of use, meaning you’ll be producing this clean energy for a long time to come.

2. Lower Costs

The energy your solar panels produce is either used immediately by your electrical system or stored in batteries for later. In either case, it reduces the amount of power you’ll need to pull from the traditional electrical grid, thereby reducing your power bill. 

Owners of large systems or those who use relatively little power may even be able to make money selling their energy back into the grid. Depending on the size of your system and the climate, you might find your panels paying for themselves over the long term.

Plus, costs are low after installation, with minimal solar panel maintenance or repairs required under most conditions, maximizing the financial benefits of solar panels.

3. Convenient for Off-Grid Applications

Solar panels provide the best option for off-grid energy generation, whether it’s a home far from traditional electrical lines, a boat out on the water, or an RV on the go. Unlike other off-grid sources, they can operate nearly anywhere, while wind and microhydropower are significantly less versatile. 

Depending on the type of panels and size of your array, you can even build fully off-grid systems in climates usually considered gloomy, like the Pacific Northwest. Newer mobile solar arrays can also go wherever you go, whether that’s a weekend camping trip or long-term travel.  

solar panel maintenance

4. Can Increase Home, RV, or Boat Value

For all of the reasons we’ve discussed and more, solar power systems are an increasingly desirable feature of homes, RVs, and boats. Whether it’s the reduced energy bills, a desire to help the environment, or a need for off-grid power, buyers see solar panels as a bonus.

You’ll find that, in many cases, you’ll get much of the money you spend on the system back in increased value if you eventually sell. With this in mind, your system provides an even better return on investment than it appears!

➡ Learn how to install solar panels on a sailboat.

5. May Qualify for Tax Breaks and Incentives

Further improving the financial case for solar panels are the many tax breaks, incentives, and other benefits for those who install clean energy technology. The federal government provides a tax credit of up to 30% of the system’s cost. Plus, there is no limit on the amount of the credit. Consult your state and local government to see if there are additional benefits for those in your community installing solar energy.

Are There Any Downsides to Solar Panels?

No form of energy is perfect, and solar is no exception. However, the downsides are relatively minor in contrast to the many benefits of solar panels. 

The primary disadvantage is still the sometimes considerable upfront cost required to buy and install panels. This can limit their availability to those on lower budgets. Additionally, even in ideal conditions, solar panels only generate energy for part of the day. During the night, you’ll need to either tap into another energy source or draw down energy generated during the day and stored for later use. 

Find out: Are Solar Panels Recyclable?

How Do You Store Solar Energy?

Storing solar energy is crucial in creating a reliable system that delivers power regardless of the time of day or the weather. The key to solar energy storage is a quality battery or battery bank. Excess energy will flow from your panels to your batteries, providing you with hours or even days of electricity after dark or on rainy days. 

In the past, many battery banks relied on old-school lead-acid batteries simply because there were no alternatives. But in recent years, lithium batteries have surged in popularity, providing a much better alternative. 

man holding battle born lithium battery for solar energy storage
Solar lithium batteries are a crucial component of any solar system. You must be able to store energy when the sun is shining so you can use it when it’s not.

Solar lithium batteries are lighter in weight, have higher energy capacity, can operate in more extreme conditions, and can be discharged more fully. Plus, they’re essentially maintenance-free. While they have a higher initial cost, many lithium users find it more than evens out over time. This is thanks to the longer lifespan compared to lead-acid batteries. 

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

This is one of the best benefits of solar panels. They last practically forever! 

Under normal conditions, most solar users can expect their traditional panels to last 20-30 years. Flexible solar panels will typically have a shorter life of under 10 years. Of course, this assumes your panels don’t suffer any out-of-the-ordinary damage from things like hail, falling tree branches, or other unexpected hazards. 

Throughout this long lifespan, solar users also have to do very little regular maintenance. Generally, it’s a good idea to have someone inspect your system for issues once a year. They may find small problems before they become more significant. 

Scheduling this check or conducting it yourself is your only regular maintenance other than potential cleanings. In most cases, your panels will stay clean on their own, thanks to rain, snow, and wind. However, those in especially dusty environments may benefit from semiannual cleanings. 

solar panels on rv roof

Are Solar Panels Worth It?

Solar isn’t for everyone, especially those who may not have the initial budget to install them. But for many folks, the answer is clear: solar panels are absolutely worth it.

The benefits of solar panels range from lowering your energy bills to helping the environment. You can also get energy for an off-grid life, among many more. It’s an incredible technology all based on the free, renewable energy of the sun. 

Want To Learn More About Electrical Systems and Lithium Batteries?

We know that building or upgrading an electrical system can be overwhelming, so we’re here to help. Our Reno, Nevada-based sales and customer service team is standing by at (855) 292-2831 to take your questions!

Also, join us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to learn more about how lithium battery systems can power your lifestyle, see how others have built their systems, and gain the confidence to get out there and stay out there.

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