Solar power system types: equipment needed, costs, pros, and cons (2023)

Around the globe, more and more homeowners are electing to install residential solar power systems. Their motivation is to reduce long-term energy costs while minimizing their carbon footprint.

According to a report by SEIA, a record amount of residential solar capacity was installed in Q3 2021, with growth expected to continue in the coming years. This rapid development has stemmed mostly from improvements in the efficiency and lower cost of the latest solar power systems.

So, what types of solar panel systems are there? What equipment is needed for an efficient home solar power system? Can you install solar panels yourself? And when will break-even occur? Let’s dive in to find the answers to these questions and more.

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    What is a solar panel system?

    Roof-mounted solar panel systems absorb and convert the energy-packed photons of natural sunlight into a usable energy form. Solar panel systems are often referred to as PV, or photovoltaic, solar power systems.

    (Video) The truth about solar panels - do the pros outweigh the cons?

    The following video explains how most solar power systems work to power a home:

    The home installation of a high-quality solar power system can reduce or eliminate dependence on the utility power grid that supplies electricity to light, heat, cool, and operate your home.

    Residential solar power system installations result in a clean, renewable energy source that requires minimal maintenance with savings that could pay back the initial investment in just a few years!

    Once your solar system is paid off, you will have decades of free energy.

    What are the types of solar power systems?

    There are three main types of solar power systems:

    • Grid-tied systems: The most popular solar system type; the home is connected to the grid so it can use electricity from the utility when the solar panels aren’t producing enough energy to power the home
    • Hybrid systems: Also called ‘solar-plus-storage systems’; the solar panels are paired with a solar battery to store energy for the home to use later on or during a power outage, and the home is also connected to the grid
    • Off-grid systems: There is no connection to the grid and the home runs entirely off of energy generated and stored on-site

    Learn more: Solar power system types

    How much will a solar power system cost?

    Most professionally-installed solar panel systems cost between $18,000 and $20,000 before factoring in any rebates or incentives.

    If you’re looking to add a battery to your system, you can add another $10,000 minimum to that price. Off-grid systems may be even more expensive because you will need more solar panels and more storage to cover your energy usage.

    Remember, the cost of a solar panel system varies depending on the size you need, where you live, what equipment you choose, and the installer you go with. There are also incentives to keep in mind, like the substantial 30% solar tax credit offered by the IRS.

    Our solar calculator incorporates initial costs plus long-term savings to help with your decision of whether or not to go solar.

    What is the best solar power system for home?

    The right solar power system for your home depends on what you want out of the system.

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    If you’re just trying to save money on your electricity bills with the added bonus of powering your home with renewable energy, then a grid-tied solar system is probably best for you. Grid-tied systems are especially great if your utility offers full-retail net metering.

    Hybrid solar power systems are better suited for homeowners who live in areas that have access to the grid but still experience frequent power outages. In most cases, solar batteries won’t save you any additional money, so you’re really paying for the peace of mind of having a battery backup bank when the grid is down. Hybrid systems are also popular for homeowners who want to maximize the amount of clean energy they use to power their homes.

    Off-grid systems are best for homeowners who don’t have access to the grid. Whether it's a rural farm or a cabin in the woods, off-grid solar systems let you have the electricity that you otherwise might not have. However, going off-grid requires some substantial lifestyle changes, as you really need to be conscious of your energy consumption.

    What are the main components of a solar panel system?

    Solar power system types: equipment needed, costs, pros, and cons (1)

    Understanding the components of a solar power system is the first step to finding the right system for you. The components of a grid-tied home solar power system include:

    • Solar panels
    • Solar inverter
    • Solar racking
    • Net meter
    • Solar performance monitoring

    Hybrid and off-grid solar system types will require additional equipment. Aside from the equipment listed above, they will also use:

    • Solar battery storage
    • Charge controller

    Solar panels

    The solar panels themselves are the key elements of a solar power system - they’re what produces the electricity! All solar systems, no matter the type, will have solar panels. Solar panels are made up of solar cells made of silicon, that are wired together to make solar modules.

    Some popular solar panel brands include LG, LONGi Solar, SunPower, and Jinko Solar. SolarReviews produces an extensive, unbiased list of leading solar panel brands from around the world comparing attributes such as cost, efficiency, and warranty.

    Most solar panels installed today are monocrystalline solar panels, but some homeowners do still choose polycrystalline panels to save a bit of money.

    Learn more: Monocrystalline vs polycrystalline solar panels

    Solar inverter

    Inverters are the mechanisms that convert the direct current (DC) produced by the solar panels into the alternating current (AC) that homes require.

    Inverters come in three types:

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    1. String or centralized inverters: They are the least expensive, but can be inefficient. This is because there is potential production loss if there is shading on the roof.
    2. Microinverters: These inverters are more expensive, and are attached to each solar panel, allowing for smooth operations even when some panels are shaded.
    3. Power optimizers: Installed in each panel, they optimize the DC output of each PV module, which then goes on to a string inverter for conversion to AC power. They are less expensive than microinverters, but slightly more expensive than string inverters.

    Related articles:

    How a solar inverter works in your home solar system

    Comparing micro inverters vs string inverters, plus other inverter types

    Solar racking

    Solar panels are not attached to the roof directly. Panels are mounted on racking systems, which are attached to the roof and angled for the optimal degree of sun exposure.

    Net meter

    A net meter is a key component of solar systems that are connected to the grid if your utility offers net metering.

    If your utility company offers net metering and you have grid-connected solar, with or without a battery, any solar electricity that you produce that you don’t use (or store in your battery) is sent to the grid. With net metering, your utility will pay you for that electricity you send, which lowers your electric bill.

    To keep track of how much electricity your solar panels produce versus how much electricity you use from the utility, a special electric meter, called a ‘net meter’, is required.

    Since they aren’t connected to the utility, off-grid solar systems do not need a net meter.

    Solar performance monitoring

    To verify the performance of your PV system, a monitoring system will show you how much electricity is being generated per hour, per day, or per year. The system can identify potential performance changes, as well.

    Solar battery storage

    Solar batteries can be added to your solar system to store solar energy for later or if you want to use it overnight. Storage batteries also allow a PV system to operate when the electric grid is not available. If you want your solar panels to operate during a power outage, you need to pair them with a solar battery.

    Hybrid solar systems and off-grid systems both use solar energy storage. However, off-grid systems require more batteries because they don’t have the grid to fall back on like hybrid systems do.

    Charge controller

    Charge controllers are only used for solar power systems that have battery storage. Grid-tie systems without batteries do not require a charge controller.

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    Charge controllers are installed between the solar panels and the battery to prevent the batteries from being overcharged and to ensure that the battery is charged by the right voltage level. If overcharged, batteries can catch on fire, so a charge controller is essential in making sure your battery system is safe and long-lasting.

    Can you install a solar power system yourself?

    You can install solar panels yourself if you’re looking to save money on installation costs. Many people who decide to go the DIY route use solar panel kits that cost anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 to cover all of their energy usage.

    While DIY solar installations may save you a little bit of money upfront, they will require a substantial amount of time to install and they can be dangerous. Not only that, but you’ll have to manage permitting and inspections on your own, which can be quite difficult.

    Some utilities won’t even allow you to connect DIY solar installations to the grid, and you could void out some of your equipment warranties, as well.

    In short, yes you can install a solar power system yourself, but we don’t recommend it.

    Learn more: DIY solar panel guide

    Who should I use to install my solar system for home?

    Proper installation can be as critical to future performance and return on your investment as the quality of the equipment. Extensive training and a complete understanding of each element are essential.

    Many of the best manufacturers have partnered with qualified solar installers in each geographic area. These companies provide onsite training and verification of professional installers before certification.

    To find out if a solar panel system is a worthwhile and attainable investment for you, use the solar calculator below to gather the information you need to make a decision.

    FAQs

    What are the pros and cons for solar power? ›

    The Top 11 Pros and Cons of Solar Energy
    Benefits of Solar EnergyDisadvantages of Solar Energy
    Reduces your carbon footprintSolar installations can be expensive
    Saves money on your electricity billsDoesn't generate electricity at night
    You receive federal assistance for solar panelsDifficult to move once installed
    3 more rows

    What equipment is used for solar energy? ›

    Solar Panels (or Solar Modules) Solar modules, more commonly known as solar panels, are the iconic piece of equipment in solar energy systems. Photovoltaic (PV) solar modules are composed of silicon semi-conductors specially designed to harness the sun's energy in a process known as the photovoltaic effect.

    What are 5 pros and cons of solar energy? ›

    Top solar energy pros and cons
    Pros of solar energyCons of solar energy
    Lower your electric billDoesn't work for every roof type
    Improve the value of your homeNot ideal if you're about to move
    Reduce your carbon footprintBuying panels can be expensive
    Combat rising electricity costsLow electricity costs = lower savings
    3 more rows
    4 Aug 2022

    What are 3 pros and 3 cons to solar power? ›

    Pros and Cons of Solar Panels
    Pros of Solar PowerCons of Solar Power
    Reduce or eliminate electric billsSolar panels are expensive
    Reduce your carbon footprintLong payback period
    Improve your home valueNot viable for all roofs or homes
    Energy independent from the gridFewer savings when electricity costs are low
    2 more rows

    What do you need for a basic solar system? ›

    You will need four major items – solar panels, charge controller, inverter, and a battery pack. In addition to these items, you will require a breaker, meter, MC4 connector, and fuses among other things. Keep in mind that it is essential to read the solar panel module instructions.

    What do you need for a solar system project? ›

    Supplies for Building a Solar System
    • Nine styrofoam balls of varying sizes.
    • One pipe cleaner.
    • Wooden sticks.
    • Black marker.
    • Paint and paintbrushes.
    • Floral foam block.
    11 Mar 2020

    What do I need to run my house on solar power? ›

    Solar Panels For a 1500 Square Foot House

    The average home in the United States is roughly 1500 square feet. With a home of this size, the typical electric bill comes in around $100 month. In order to cover the electricity for this home, you would need an estimated 15-18 solar panels.

    What are 3 disadvantages of solar? ›

    In general, the disadvantages of solar energy include high cost, low efficiency, space needed for installing solar panels, the unreliability of sun exposure, and high pollution from manufacturing solar panels.

    What are 5 advantages of solar? ›

    Provides clean, renewable energy

    Home solar is a clean, emissions-free, and renewable energy source. Unlike fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, home solar doesn't release harmful pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions—like carbon dioxide—into the air and water supply.

    Is solar energy expensive? ›

    Yes, solar panels are expensive. With a typical 6 kW system costing an average of $17,700 before incentives, they are a home improvement that requires a significant financial investment.

    What are the 4 main types of solar energy? ›

    Passive solar gain. Solar thermal (for heating) Concentrated solar power (for electricity) Solar Photovoltaics (electricity)

    What are the 4 types of solar panels? ›

    The 4 Main Types of Solar Panels

    There are 4 major types of solar panels available on the market today: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, PERC, and thin-film panels.

    What is the best type of solar system? ›

    The most efficient solar panel for homes is a monocrystalline (mono) panel. These panels, made of silicon crystal, have the highest efficiency, falling between 15% and 22%. Thanks to the technological advancements in the solar industry, mono panels can generate more power using smaller panels with half-cells.

    Does solar power work in winter? ›

    Solar panels work through all four seasons of the year, come rain or shine, or even hail or in light snow. But solar panels do generally produce less energy in winter. That's because the days are shorter, so there are fewer hours of daylight and the sun is lower in the sky, on average.

    Do solar panels melt snow? ›

    Snow doesn't stick to panels for long

    Heat. The dark silicone cells of solar panels are designed to absorb heat from sunlight. Once any portion of a panel is exposed to the sun, a small amount of heat spreads throughout the panel and melts the snow.

    Do solar panels attract lightning? ›

    Solar panels don't attract lightning, but don't skip grounding. Unless your home is the sole building for miles and miles around or is at a higher elevation than surrounding structures, lighting won't be any more likely to strike your solar home compared to any other.

    Do solar panels work at night? ›

    The short answer is: no, solar energy systems only operate during the day. This is because the power from the sun is key to how a solar panel turns light into electricity.

    How many 12v batteries are needed to power a house? ›

    Number of Batteries

    A battery bank designed to power an average American household for three days would need to supply 90 kilowatt-hours of energy. The battery from the previous example can supply 2.4 kilowatt-hours, so this system would need 38 batteries.

    What are 3 ways to go solar? ›

    Curious how you can go solar?
    ...
    5 WAYS YOU CAN GO SOLAR
    • SOLAR FOR YOUR HOME. ...
    • SOLAR FOR YOUR BUSINESS. ...
    • SOLAR FOR PERSONAL USE. ...
    • SHARE SOLAR WITH YOUR COMMUNITY. ...
    • SOLAR THROUGH AN ENERGY SERVICE COMPANY (ESCO)
    28 Apr 2020

    How many kW solar do I need to run my house? ›

    Typical solar PV systems installed in 2021 are at least 6.6kW in size and we think that's a good size for most homes to aim for right now. That said, bigger systems of 8–10kW are becoming more common, especially for systems that include a storage battery.

    How many solar panels do I need to run a house UK? ›

    The number of solar panels that a home needs varies between 4 and 18 photovoltaic panel modules. To opt for more or fewer panels to make the investment of the installation profitable will depend on the annual electricity consumption for the house.

    Can I run my house on solar power only UK? ›

    So yes, solar panels really can power your home, even during the winter if you can generate enough excess energy in the summer to pay for the shortfall in the winter.

    › expert-corner › step-by-step-... ›

    You will need four major items – solar panels, charge controller, inverter, and a battery pack. In addition to these items, you will require a breaker, meter, M...
    While you can theoretically wire your panels straight to the device you wish to power, this may fail to power some or all of your devices. To set up a stable an...
    Compare Solar Quotes Online: https://www.solarreviews.com/solar-estimator?aff=65045&cam=705☆Estimate Your Solar Potential: https://www.solarreviews.com/sola...

    What are 3 disadvantages of solar power? ›

    High initial costs for material and installation and long ROI (however, with the reduction in the cost of solar over the last 10 years, solar is becoming more cost feasible every day) Needs lots of space as efficiency is not 100% yet. No solar power at night so there is a need for a large battery bank.

    What are 5 advantages of solar power? ›

    The Many Advantages of Solar Power
    • Solar power reduces your monthly bills.
    • Solar panels increase your property value.
    • Solar panels clean up our air.
    • Solar power keeps you connected and in control.
    • Solar panels help keep your home powered during blackouts.
    • Solar panels qualify for federal and local tax credits.

    What is a major disadvantage of using solar power? ›

    The Disadvantages of Solar Energy

    One of the biggest problems that solar energy technology poses is that energy is only generated while the sun is shining. That means nighttime and overcast days can interrupt the supply.

    What is a disadvantage of using solar power? ›

    Cons of Solar Energy:

    High initial cost. Intermittent energy source. Uses a lot of space. Small amount of pollution during manufacture, transport and installation.

    Does solar power work in winter? ›

    Solar panels work through all four seasons of the year, come rain or shine, or even hail or in light snow. But solar panels do generally produce less energy in winter. That's because the days are shorter, so there are fewer hours of daylight and the sun is lower in the sky, on average.

    Do solar panels cause roof leaks? ›

    In virtually all cases, the answer is no. Roof leaks after solar panels are extremely rare. When roof leaking after the solar panels are fitted does occur, however, it usually becomes evident very quickly after the installation process is finished.

    Is solar energy expensive? ›

    Yes, solar panels are expensive. With a typical 6 kW system costing an average of $17,700 before incentives, they are a home improvement that requires a significant financial investment.

    Do solar panels work at night? ›

    The short answer is: no, solar energy systems only operate during the day. This is because the power from the sun is key to how a solar panel turns light into electricity.

    How long do solar panels last? ›

    Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic or PV panels, are made to last more than 25 years. In fact, many solar panels installed as early as the 1980s are still working at expected capacity. Not only are solar panels remarkably reliable, solar panel longevity has increased dramatically over the last 20 years.

    Is solar cheaper than electric? ›

    Although solar energy requires an initial investment to purchase and set up, people find that solar energy is a lot less expensive than electric power in the long run due to the rising price of electricity.

    Can solar panels get too hot? ›

    Because solar panels are made to withstand extreme temperatures, it is unlikely that solar panels will ever get so hot that they cannot function. Heat will slightly reduce the energy output of solar PV modules, which is a measurement that can be determined by the panel's temperature coefficient.

    Do solar panels make house hotter? ›

    According to a study conducted by researchers at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, solar panels reduced the amount of heat reaching the roof by an incredible 38%, keeping a building's roof 5 degrees cooler than portions of a roof exposed to sunlight directly.

    Can I install my own solar panels UK? ›

    It is possible to build and install your own solar powered panel system, and often the cost of doing so would be much lower compared than the prices charged by professional solar panel installers.

    How many solar panels do I need to power my house UK? ›

    The number of solar panels that a home needs varies between 4 and 18 photovoltaic panel modules. To opt for more or fewer panels to make the investment of the installation profitable will depend on the annual electricity consumption for the house.

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