You’ve heard about a lot of the benefits of having solar panels on your house. You love the idea that it is environmentally sustainable and that once they’re installed you won’t be paying huge bills to your utility company. In fact, you may even have heard that if your panels produce enough electricity, the energy company will pay you.

Sounds like a good idea, right? While solar panels do have their advantages, the reality of owning them may be a bit more complicated than it seems at first. Before you make any decisions, it is well worth gaining a full understanding of how solar electricity works and understanding the pros and cons of installing and operating panels. We’ve got the information you need.

About home solar panels

Generally speaking, home solar panels are composed of smaller units of photovoltaic (PV) cells which convert sunlight into electricity. The panels generate an electricity flow as the sunlight going through them separates electrons from atoms. Each of the PV cells is made up of two pieces of semi-conducting material, such as silicon, which is then dosed with either phosphorous or boron so that the sheet has either a positive or negative charge. The two oppositely charged sheets together create an electric field. As the sunlight passes through the field and separates an electron from its atom, the field can take the electron away and create an electric current. Other components of the PV cell convert this energy flow into usable power.

Reasons to consider solar energy

It can be easy to get excited about using solar energy to power your home. Solar energy has environmental benefits because it is a renewable resource that doesn’t require extraction methods that can be damaging to the earth. It is also a universal resource, available to a greater or lesser extent wherever there is sunlight. Thirdly, there’s no waste such as exists from mining fossil fuels or the production of nuclear energy.

In addition to environmental benefits, solar energy is cheaper and can save homeowners thousands of dollars each year on their electric bill. This is money that you won’t be paying to your utility company. Once you’ve paid the cost for the installation of your solar panels, your energy is essentially free, minus any cost of maintaining the PV cells.

Energy providers have also made significant improvements in storage capacity for energy produced by PV cells. This means that the lack of availability of sunlight, say on a cloudy day or during the shorter days of winter, is far less of a problem than it has been in the past. Even if less sunlight is available, electric users can draw the same amount from the system’s alternate storage capacity rather than using energy freshly produced on a bright day.

Solar energy drawbacks

While solar panel owners may be excited to not have to pay their utility payments, in the early stages of panel use there’s another bill to take its place. Users will need to pay off the cost of their equipment and installation which can reach as high as five figures. However, many solar panel owners find that they’re able to pay this off over a longer time span of 15 to 20 years, depending on the arrangement they’ve made with their provider. This is a lot different than a traditional utility bill where payments aren’t ever expected to end.

Another drawback that homeowners should consider is that their solar panels are a piece of equipment connected to their home. Like other appliances and machines, it is likely to need servicing and repair from time to time. Because of their location on an exposed roof, they may be susceptible to all kinds of damage from storms, hail, or falling branches. If you own your panels you may be responsible for these repairs. It is also worth talking to your homeowner’s insurance company about how damage to any panels you own is covered under your policy.

If you are leasing the panels, finances for managing your system may be totally different and not necessarily in your favor. While it is positive that the responsibility to maintain and repair panels are likely to fall on your leasing company, it is not 100% assured. In addition, the leasing company gains control over decisions that are made about your roof, and some have been known to escalate the costs of the electricity you buy from them over time. Lastly, leasing payments don’t necessarily end, as opposed to purchasing repayments which cease when the system is paid off entirely.

The future of solar panels

Whether you ultimately decide to convert your home to a solar electric system, the panels themselves will undoubtedly be part of how humans get their electricity in the long-term. New research is beginning the solar energy field. While silicon is commonly used in solar cells, they’re not the only option. To make solar panels easier to use and more affordable, researchers are constantly searching for thinner, more pliable materials to work with. One of the most extreme examples of a lighter cell is just 1.3 microns thick, about 1/100th the width of a human hair, and 20 times lighter than a sheet of printer paper. This new type of cell is so light it can sit on top of bubbles and there are a wealth of new, innovative ways these types of panels can be integrated into usable products.┬áThe future of solar panel technology is exciting!