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Your Guide to Solar Panels in the US

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Solar panels explained

If you’ve been looking at ways to cut down on your energy bills through renewable energy sources, you will probably be wondering if using solar energy generated using solar panels could be the right choice for you?

Most people have several questions about solar energy and solar panels:
  • What is solar energy?
  • Is solar energy a “miracle” fix for high energy prices?
  • Is solar energy reliable?
  • Are solar panels suitable for all houses?
  • Are solar panels expensive?
  • How large are solar panels?
  • How hard are solar panels to clean and maintain?
  • How much money could you save using solar energy?

In this guide to solar energy, we’ll explain exactly what you need to know about solar panels in the US, including:

  • How they work
  • How they are installed
  • How to clean and maintain solar panels on your house

This guide will give you the information you need to know about whether investing in solar energy could be the right choice for you and your home. If you have any questions at any time, it is easy to speak directly with one of our recommended specialists for personal advice.

What is solar energy?

‘As NASA explains on its website, “The Sun is a yellow dwarf star, a hot ball of glowing gases at the heart of our solar system. Everything in our solar system revolves around it – the planets, asteroids, comets, and tiny bits of space debris.”

‘Solar’ is defined as being something related to or determined by the sun. A definition of solar energy is “any type of energy generated by the sun”.

Some solar energy facts

While it can be easy to think of solar energy as being a modern invention, people have been harnessing the power of the sun as early as the 7th century B.C, when they used to reflect its light onto shiny objects to light fires.

While this worked, it was not a very effective way of harnessing solar energy. Most people today would not be happy sitting around for hours on end to heat up water to make a hot drink using this method!

Fortunately, advances in technology – and ongoing research and innovation into renewable energy technologies - makes it much more efficient to produce electricity from the sun today!


How powerful is the sun, and how much energy does it generate?

173,000 trillion watts of solar energy reach the Earth continually.

Unlike fossil fuels, solar energy is a completely renewable type of energy (at least it is for the lifetime of the sun, which is still calculated at billions of years).

The challenge for solar energy engineers, scientists and researchers in the US is to work out how to capture as much solar energy as possible and then transform it into useable electricity in the most efficient way.

That’s where solar panels come in.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels (also known as photovoltaics, or PV) harness the power of the sun, converting sunlight into electricity that can then be used to power your home.

Solar panels are normally made from several semi-conducting cells of silicon, all contained within a metal frame and then covered with glass.

Solar panel on roof showing the PV cells that capture solar energy and turn it into electricity

When light particles (solar energy from the sun) hit the top layer of silicon, it creates an electric current which is captured by wiring within the solar panel and converted into a useable form of electricity.

While they are not able to convert 100% of the solar energy captured into electricity, modern solar panels are much more efficient at capturing and converting solar energy than earlier generations of solar panels.

Many people think that solar panels only work with bright sun and a clear sky, but solar energy can be captured even on cloudy days. However, the brighter the sunlight, the more energy is captured, and the more electricity is generated.

Because some states have far more sunshine than others, this will affect the amount of money you could save from solar.

Four benefits of solar panels

Solar panels have four main benefits for homeowners in the US:

1 – Spend less money on electricity

Sunlight is free. When you generate electricity at home using solar panels, you can then use it to power your electrical appliances, light your house, or even to charge an electric car if you own one. This reduces the amount of electricity you need to use and pay for from the grid.

2 – State incentives

When you generate electricity from solar energy, you may find that you have surplus left over from what you use in your house. There are a number of policies and incentives for renewable energy, and these vary for different states. Up-to-date information can be found here.

3 – Increase the market value of your home

The more energy efficient your home is, the more valuable it becomes. Governments around the world are legislating for increased energy efficiency in homes, and this is likely to continue as fossil fuels and other typical fuel sources become less politically acceptable.

4 – Reduce your carbon footprint

By using renewable solar energy, you reduce your carbon emissions. As an example, a standard home solar PV system could save around one ton of carbon per year (the exact amount will vary depending on where you live in the country).

Is my home suitable for solar panels?

Not all homes are suitable for solar panels, so it is important you check a few key things. Our solar energy specialists will be able to guide you through the decision process, but some factors to consider are:


An average solar panel PV system takes up around 25m2, so you will ideally have roof space larger than this. The larger your roof, the higher number of solar panels you could potentially install.

Direction of roof

A South-facing roof is the optimal placement for a house in the Northern Hemisphere to be able to capture the maximum solar energy. A roof that faces North would not normally be recommended for solar panels, as it will not capture solar energy for much of the day. An East or West-facing roof may be viable, although it will generate 15 – 20% less energy than a South-facing roof.


To optimize the amount of solar energy captured, your solar panels will ideally be on a roof with no shade. If you have large trees overhanging your roof, or nearby buildings that overhang it, this will reduce the amount of electricity your solar panels will be able to generate.

How are solar panels installed?

A solar PV system comprises three main parts:

  • Solar panels
  • A solar inverter
  • A mounting system

The most common location to install solar PV system is on a roof, as this usually allows maximum solar energy to be captured. Due to the height involved, scaffolding will normally be required.

The mounting system is fitted to the roof to support the solar panels in place. They are positioned to set the solar panels at the right angle for maximum exposure to sunlight

Once the mounting system is fitted, the solar panels are fixed to them, then wires attached.

The solar inverter is then connected to the PV system. Depending on your house, it may be fitted indoors or outdoors.

Once everything is fitted and connected, your supplier will test the PV system to make sure everything is working as expected.

That’s all. Now you can enjoy getting renewable energy from your solar panels!

Solar panel maintenance

Solar panels have no moving parts, so there is very little maintenance needed to keep them in proper working order.

The most important thing is to make sure they stay clear, free of dirt, leaves or anything else that may cover some part of the panels.

Many people find that inspecting the panels every 6 months is adequate. If any dirt is found, it can be cleaned off gently using soapy water or the solar panel can be hosed with a normal garden hose*.

* Be sure to only hose with cold water when the panel is cool. If you spray cold water onto a hot solar panel, it may become damaged.

Most installers recommend having your solar PV system inspected by them every 5 years or so. You can discuss this with them further, as each installer will have different recommendations specific to the panels and equipment they use.

Frequently asked questions about solar panels

Is my roof suitable for solar panels?

As discussed above, a ‘standard’ solar PV system will need 25m2. If you roof is smaller than this, solar panels may not be suitable for your house, but it is worth talking to one of our recommended solar energy specialists for advice.

Can I install solar panels myself?

While there is nothing to stop you installing solar panels yourself, the best results will always come from having them installed by an experienced company. Most suppliers will include warranties on their work and can provide periodic maintenance checks to ensure everything continues to work as expected.

Will solar panels save money?

Solar panels involve an upfront investment, but over the long term will help to reduce the amount of electricity you need to pay for from the grid. For this reason, they are best thought of as an investment that will pay off for years to come.

Our advisers can talk you through how much money you could realistically expect to save when you choose to install solar panels.

Are solar panels safe?

When installed and maintained correctly, solar panels (and solar PV systems) are extremely safe.

However, it is important to remember that a solar PV system remains “live” at all times and cannot be turned off easily like a traditional electrical supply.

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Get expert guidance about solar energy for your home today!

If you are a homeowner in the US and are interested in investing in solar panels for your property, we would be delighted to help you find the right supplier for your specific needs.

Get in touch with us today for expert advice.

Last update: 27 May 2024

Written by Mike

MyGreenHome editors Team is a professional team of copywriters and writes with dozens of years of experience covering consumers, financial and business products and services

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