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Basics of Solar Panels: Using Sunlight to Generate Free Electricity

Stephanie is always looking for ways to lighten her carbon footprint. She is enthusiastic about solar power and solar gadgets.

How do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?

Powering your life with energy from the sun is clean, efficient and less expensive over time than coal-powered electricity. Today, you can find solar panels in many places - on homes, businesses, and even traffic signals. Perhaps you have noticed solar panels in your own community. Tilted toward the afternoon sun, solar panels are designed and engineered to capture the most ultraviolet light to convert to electricity. Don't you think its time to go solar?

Where I live, I see solar panels frequently. Since I started getting more interested in solar energy, saving money and reducing my carbon footprint, I seem to see panels everywhere (like the phenomenon when you buy a new car and you notice the same make and model much more frequently). Here in Bend, Oregon, I have seen solar panels on gates, traffic signals, schools, homes and even the top of a few small businesses.

In a previous hub on Solar Power, I explained the basic photovoltaic technology used in creating solar panels. Even if you are not ready to totally convert your home or business to solar power, you can employ solar panels to help reduce your electric bill and/or provide convenient power where "plugging in" may not be practical.

Don't think you can afford to install solar panels on your home or business? Think again! The federal government and many states provide energy tax credits to encourage alternative energy usage. Wind, solar and other renewable energy tax credits have been extended in the United States. For the most up-to-date information, check out

Solar Panels in Hawaii

Solar Panels in Hawaii

Solar panels provide power to open and close a gate

Solar panels provide power to open and close a gate

The sun can provide much more than just beautiful sunset colors

The sun can provide much more than just beautiful sunset colors

Q&A About Solar Panels

Q: Isn't it very expensive to install solar panels?

A: Not necessarily! Research shows that you can install a home-based solar panel system for as little as $8,500. Many states offer incentives to install and use solar panels, as well. And don't forget the tax credits either!

Q: How long will it take to make back my investment in energy savings?

A: That depends. Among many factors include the size of the solar panel system, tax rebates and other incentives. Generally, estimates range between 10-15 years. That may improve, however, with added efficiency and grid-payback systems implemented by energy companies. If you're in it for more than just money (i.e. slowing global warming and reducing your carbon footprint), your investment payback is immediate!

Q: Doesn't the process of making solar panels result in pollution?

A: Of course there is some environmental impact as a result of producing solar panels, as there is with any other type of manufactured good. However, the environmental costs of production are far outweighed by the environmental benefits provided by reduced fossil fuel consumption. Even the smallest solar panel system can cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50 trees! Just remember that 100% of the electricity produced by solar panels is emission free!

Q: Solar power has been around for as long as mankind - why has it taken so long for interest in solar panels?

A: While its true that people have been using the power of the sun for centuries, modern solar panels have only been around for about 50 years. The progression of the technology to create efficient panels is continuing to the present date. Less than 3 percent of our nation's electricity is currently generated by solar power. However, solar power energy generation is growing at a rate of 20-30 percent each year. With added tax incentives, concerns about global warming and a strong desire to become energy independent, more and more people are becoming interested - and willing to invest - in solar panels.

Q: What about excess energy created by PV cells on solar panels?

A: Excess energy must be stored in batteries (if you are "off-grid"), or is released to the power grid. Some power companies credit customers based on the amount of energy put into the grid. This helps defray costs of the wattage that is used overnight or during less efficient solar energy periods.

Bypass your HOA to install Solar Panels

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Solar panels on a local business in Bend, Oregon

Solar panels on a local business in Bend, Oregon

Sunlight is abundant - let's use it to power through solar panels

Sunlight is abundant - let's use it to power through solar panels

The Million Solar Roofs Initiative

President Barack Obama pledged heavy support for alternative energy programs and has set some lofty goals to be accomplished in the next four years. Years before the historic election, however, the Million Solar Roofs Initiative (MSRI) was established in 1997. The primary goal of the program, administered by the Department of Energy, was to achieve the installation of 1,000,000 new solar panel systems in the country by the year 2010. What would this accomplish? With installation of a million solar panel systems, we would be able to save the equivalent of the emissions produced by more than 800,000 cars each year!

The conclusions of the success of the Million Solar Roofs Initiative were issued in 2006:

"When the program concluded, the federal government's investment of $16 million had leveraged roughly $7.1 million in cash. It also leveraged in-kind resources and incentive programs throughout the country. This synergy has contributed to the following outcomes:

  • Installation of the equivalent of more than 377,000 solar water heating, photovoltaics (PV), and solar pool heating systems
  • Installation of 200 megawatts (MW) of grid-connected PV capacity and 200 MW of solar water heating capacity
  • Dramatic growth in PV technology acceptance, from 8% of solar installations in 1997 to 41% in 2005
  • Economic and environmental benefits that resulted from grid-connected PV installed between 1997 and 2005 including :
  • Health benefit savings of $90 million
  • Decreased CO2 emissions of 3.3 million tons
  • Cumulative GNP increase of $1.6 to $2.6 billion, depending on installed cost (range of $8-10 per watt)

After the Million Solar Roofs Initiative concluded, the program shifted to the Solar America Initiative. The aim of that program is to "achieve cost-competitiveness for solar technologies across all market sectors by 2015." It is hoped that by the year 2015, PV technologies will provide the equivalent of electricity to power 1.25 million homes, avoid 7 million metric tons each year of greenhouse gas emissions and also provide new jobs for more than 10,000 people!

Cheap Solar Power - for you!

Go Solar: Save Money

Use of solar panels to harness energy from the sun is a smart investment for your home.

However, even if you are not sure you are ready for the home improvement project, you can start out by getting solar powered gadgets, like backpacks fitted with solar panels, solar cell phone chargers and other similar small consumer goods.

Once you see the reliability offered by the use of solar power, as opposed to grid-based electricity, you will probably become a convert!

Time for a Poll

© 2008 Stephanie Marshall


radharenu from India on October 18, 2017:

Excellent Hub. Very lucid explanation of what is solar panel and how solar panels work. I am sure many people would be encouraged to go for solar on reading such great articles. Thanks for sharing.

For more information, you may visit this link also:

louromano on March 17, 2012:

someday i want to own one...i like the idea...Nice hub.

Randy Deresti on February 29, 2012:

The field is really growing and the technology is amazing I have some really cool designs on my page but your page is great I'll link to you in my site.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 26, 2011:

Thank you so much Peggy! So glad that you found this solar panel/solar power hub. I am a big fan of renewable energy too. Best, Steph

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 26, 2011:

This just makes so much sense! Solar energy should be utilized as much as possible. Great hub! Up, useful and interesting votes.

JON EWALL from usa on September 04, 2011:


Check out this Series of articles tracking the stimulus money for solar and wind

. By Russ Choma

Blown Away: Tracking stimulus grants for renewable energy

Ps Check the TV schedule for Sept. 7, 2011 and Sept. 8, 2011 President Obama addresses the Congress


RENEWABLE ENERGY using A SOLAR PANEL SYSTEM has your link in my hub ,check it out

. Have a great day, I enjoyed your hub.

Aprilette on August 30, 2011:

Man is quite smart to invent something as wonderful as solar panels. Thomas Edison was a brilliant person when he suggested that we tap the sun's solar energy and use it to our advantage. This will not only benefit mankind but using solar energy will be greatly beneficial to Mother Earth as well.

For more info

solarpathlights on August 04, 2011:

Good hubs ,thanks for sharing.

Sam Brettell on July 07, 2011:

Solar Panels are the future!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 17, 2011:

Hi Glenn - thank you very much. Solar panel kits are so easy to find and install. You can get them for as little or as much electricity you want to generate (i.e. for an RV or a boat, or just a garage, or your entire home). Thanks for the vote! Best, Steph

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on April 16, 2011:

It's awesome how many solar kits are available already for people to experiment with. I like the series of Q&A you included. You did a great job putting all this informative info together. I voted up!

John Kimball on April 07, 2011:

I am Jorge from Sun Electronics. We are a wholesale and also retail solar panel, systems, inverters, and all sort of renewable energy products, providing a wide range of high quality products at the world's lowest prices.

I've shared this article with all my employees because it is quite very interesting and to see how many people and companies are involved in green energy makes us very proud to be working in this industry.

brientini Ugo on February 18, 2011:

Dear Ms/Mr

I'm Ugo, i'm wholesaler of solar mounting system base in China.

i'm living currently in Hangzhou close to Shanghai.

i have at my disposal various kind of solar rack for land or roof

and the screw of fondation intented to fix those structure in field.

Feel free to contact me for any information at this email address:

If you're interesting in it, i will send you an itemized invoice.




Skype: ugo.brientini

tel: 008615158089352

trade manager: 115952658

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 23, 2011:

Thank you Apostle Jack - I am quite passionate about solar, with two blogs devoted entirely to the topic. Glad you found the article interesting! Cheers, Steph

Apostle Jack from Atlanta Ga on January 23, 2011:

I think solar is a wonderful idea.I would like to see more solar in the future.You put this together well it is my pleasure to say thanks.

dhansen on January 13, 2011:

Great information! Thanks for addressing the impact of the creation of the panels - I'm glad to know the long-term benefit still outweighs the cost. Any advice about using solar panels in a cloudy climate like Seattle? And what about selecting a qualified installer? I found a directory (, but could use some advice about picking the right company to install my solar panels.

Solar Panels on December 28, 2010:

Very useful hub, always search good manufacturers for solar products.

helene.bliss on December 11, 2010:

Fantastic hub about solar panels. I, myself is a fan of solar power and I am really happy that more and more people are understanding the importance of it as well as the benefits it can give.

solar china on December 07, 2010:

nice post.our blog also have many solar info. on December 02, 2010:

Great hub! It's great that governments are now giving rebates and incentives. I hope they can encourage more people to go solar. I am a fan of green energy and of course I also want to save money. Good thing there are affordable panels that I can buy.

Joshua - Solar Power Energy on November 29, 2010:

Al Gore should have encourage Obama to go green. Nice hub steph, it looks very interesting and really informative. Thanks for this! I learned a lot

Jerry on October 20, 2010:

Dear Sir,

I am Jerry from GPT Solar. GPT Solar is manufacturer of photovoltaic products, providing a wide range of high quality photovoltaic products with competitive price.

Our product range includes Solar Cell, Solar Panel (Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline and CIS), Controller, Inverter; Solar LED Marker, Solar Landscaping LED String, and Solar Light etc. For more information, you are welcome to visit our website at: .

Should any of these items be of interest to you, please feel free to contact me. I will be happy to give you a quotation upon receipt of your detailed requirements.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Have a nice day!

Best regards,

Jerry Deng

Jerry Deng


TEL: 0086-592-2561661

FAX: 0086-592-2561663


WEBSITE: Http://

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 06, 2010:

Let's hope so! Solar has a lot of advantages over other renewable energy, and especially coal and gas

Solar Panels Installer on July 06, 2010:

Barack Obama is President now, hopefully the whole world will go a little greener now.

dodok on May 13, 2010:

I have been using a small scale solar panels on my house. but I have a little problem in my accu. accu very often damaged or dropped. so I often replace the batteries. want to save even so lavishly.

Primoz on January 17, 2010:

Excelent article! The other obvious advantage of using homemade solar panels is that you will be greatly contributing to protecting the environment, because by not using electricity produced by oil-powered power stations, you will be reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and hence the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on October 18, 2009:

Yes, subarau55, I think we'll see more and more solar panels and solar power investment. Even today on 60 minutes they were talking about leasing solar panels as a great option to help people minimize up front costs (that will be another hub...) :)

subaru555 on October 18, 2009:

Very interesting article it is nice to see more people jumping on the green energy bandwagon. It is a very good investment although it may cost a little bit of money to start up it is relentless in the amount of energy it can provide throughout its lifetime! Truly a great investment and great article.

solar panels on August 11, 2009:

I am sure more and more people would use solar panels.

Daled on August 03, 2009:

Solar Panel is really fascinating!!

anant surya from India on July 24, 2009:

really informative.I want to get into the field of energy from renewable resources and as India is still to catch up on the latest technology i would really appreciate any help or advice.

Info Provider from St. Louis Mo. on June 25, 2009:

Build Your Solar Panels Learn Step By Step

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 20, 2009:

Yes, the PV market is about to explode, in my opinion. 5 years from now, you'll be seeing solar panels everywhere!

foren83 from Phoenix on April 20, 2009:

In my experience, I've found a lot of people that search for solar battery chargers for little appliances and electronics....I think that in the next future thanks to the tax credits we could expect the see increasng the market share of photovoltaic panels.

Solar Panels on January 21, 2009:

This solar panel looks a bit like a tenis table :)

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 02, 2009:

Hi earnestshub- thank you! I understand that solar shingles are slightly more durable than solar panels. They can offer protection for your roof, as ordinary shingles. However, some say that solar roof shingles are more difficult to set up because each shingle needs to be individually wired. Still, they can be a great investment for your home, can increase its value, and you can get some excellent tax rebates for going solar. I think the benefits outweigh any potential costs! :)

earnestshub from Melbourne Australia on January 02, 2009:

Another fab hub. Steph, I am wondering if solar shingles are more durable than panels?

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 22, 2008:

Hi Roberta! Thank you so much. There is so much to learn about solar panels and sometimes the information can be too much to digest. It was even helpful for me to break it down a bit here. Take care! Steph

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on November 22, 2008:

A wonderfully clear explanation of solar panels and how they work--fabulous links too which are well worth taking a look it . Thanks for this Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 18, 2008:

Hi Golden Apple -thank you so much for the compliment! I am so excited about the future of solar panels. Glad to see you are on board. :)

Golden Apple on November 18, 2008:

Hii stephhick68 thanks for giving a wonderful Eco friendly information about the solar panels. Future i am planning to have it!!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 16, 2008:

Hi Compu, yes! I 100% agree! In today's economy, your best bet is to literally invest in the future: solar panels seem to be one of the best hopes for personal consumers to save on energy costs (wind is promising too, but difficult to implement on an individual basis). I'll be with you at the January sales.... :) Steph

Tony Sky from London UK on November 16, 2008:

To have resources that are free and unharmful to the environment is priceless, and what a great reason to have to have solar powered energy or any other natural energy powered thingmajigs especially in today's credit crunch climate!:)

I am going to wait for the January sales to purchase something anything!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 15, 2008:

Hi artfuldodger, yes, there are always new breakthroughs with solar panels and the technology. Seems like every week, I read something new and exciting. I'm watching news on tidal wave power too.

artfuldodger from Earth on November 15, 2008:

dope hub. very nice. seems like every day theres a new breakthrough with solar technology (ie efficiency, energy capture etc) tidal wave power sounds promising too

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 15, 2008:

Hi Glory - thank you for giving us more information about solar panels! They are becoming even more efficient and affordable for people to use.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 15, 2008:

Thank you betherickson! Going green has become a passion of mine, and solar panels are so easy to use and even have installed. Thanks for participting in the poll, too. Steph

GLORY on November 15, 2008:

You have provided good information about the use of solar energy.People have started investing in solar panels .

betherickson from Minnesota on November 14, 2008:

I enjoyed reading your hub. I voted for solar energy. I'm an environmental kind of person and I can get use to it. Thanks for this great info!

HARRIS from Phoenix, Ariz on November 08, 2008:

Great Hub

I have always been a big fan of alternative environment friendly energy sources but I been having some problem with solar panels. Solar panels are great when used as hybrid with other sources and they are even better when used in lawns and gardens with single lamps.

Problem is when you go heavy duty. First time charges are very high and even though they come with guarantee, the grantee only covers solar panel not the rest of equipment. Then the biggest problem is maintenance solar panel require lots of maintenance. Maintenance after rain, after dust storms, after hailstorm, after every thing nature has to offer.

Constant Walker from Springfield, Oregon on November 06, 2008:

Thanks, I will!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 06, 2008:

Hi Mariane, I think within the next 5 years or so, many people wil have solar panels. Just like it was 10-15 years ago and not many people had cell phones, and now they are everywhere! :)

mariane14 from USA on November 06, 2008:

someday i want to own one...i like the idea...

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 06, 2008:

Hi Constant Walker - that is a great question. I think that if you want to power your unit with solar power, you would have to talk to the landlord about installing solar panels. It would likely fall within the realm of things that you are not permitted to do to the building or unit without permission. You could offer to pay the cost of installation and removal. Of course, you'd have to have a unit that is properly situated so that you could capture the best sunlight, as well. You know, I think this question is the potential topic of another hub or blog post - I am going to do more research and see what I can find. LIke so many other technological advancements, it seems like questions like this come up before all the "what ifs" are worked out. If you have a cool landlord (and you've done some good homework on how much the solar panels will save you - and possibly him or her with respect to hallways, entry and other common areas - in energy costs), you may very well be successful in your endeavor. Keep me posted definitely!

Constant Walker from Springfield, Oregon on November 06, 2008:

Great subject, Steph. I can't wait til we get to the point where everyone is using at least one solar panel, and when, as they become more common place, the initial cost goes down.

Do you know how it would work for a renter of, say, an apartment (not interested in the costs and headaches of ownership) if he was interested in setting up solar panels?

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 05, 2008:

@hubby7 - there are many players in the solar panel/solar power field. Here in Bend, Oregon, PV Powered is a leading company. Obama visited and had a tour of the facility and then gave a speech from PV Powered on energy independence in May 2008. I am keeping a close watch on them.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 05, 2008:

@solarshingles - you are the master of solar panels and solar energy! Thank you for the comment. Of course, I agree that solar power panels are the way to energy independence. I think the next few years are going to be very interesting!