Often when people think about going solar, it's the idea of saving money or saving the environment that drives them. But how much do you know about the actual panels that create the power? You may wonder what they’re made from, how long they last, whether they’re recyclable, or whether using them for solar electricity is actually better for the environment than natural gas or coal. Well read on, because here are the answers to your most asked questions about solar panels!
1. What kind of solar panels do you install, and why?
We use solar panels made by REC Americas LLC. In our opinion, REC panels (also known as PV modules) have the best product quality, company reliability, and commitment to sustainability. We also think they look great. We love the sleek aesthetic of the REC N-Peak 320w and Alpha Series 365w panels. More important, their beauty is not just on the outside. REC panels go through stringent internal testing, third-party certifications and endorsements, and have an industry-leading low claims rate, so we can feel sure that we are offering our customers the most reliable product possible.
In fact, REC's internal testing is up to three times as stringent as industry standards – meaning that when they send out the panels for certification or testing, they already know they will pass. It’s important to us to know that the panels we install will be reliable for the lifetime of the product and perform strongly in even the most extreme environments.
Ipsun installers also participate in a tailored REC certification program that allows us to be designated "REC Certified Solar Professionals.” We hope knowing that the solar panel is of a high level of quality, and that the person installing it is also highly skilled and has been trained by REC, gives you added peace of mind. Even better, going through the REC Certified Solar Professional program is what allows us to offer an extended 25-year equipment warranty on our panels.
2. How much do solar panels degrade over time? Will they stop producing at full power over the years?
All solar panels lose some power each year due to UV exposure and weather cycles. Manufacturers realize this, so typical solar panels come with a power output or performance warranty that usually guarantees 80% production at the end of 25 years.
Another reason we choose to install REC panels is because their annual degradation is the lowest in the industry. REC N-Peak and Alpha panels have between a 0.2% and 0.5% warranted annual degradation. That means after 25 years, your REC N-Peak panels will still produce at least 86% of their nameplate power, and your Alpha Series panels will still be performing at 92%. This is an industry best case.
This high level of quality means REC panels are also leaders in avoiding power loss due to light induced degradation (LID). LID refers to the loss of power generation capacity experienced by a standard solar panel on its first exposure to light. This is a result of the combination of boron and oxygen inside a cell and causes a permanent drop in a standard panel’s maximum power.
Thankfully, this is not a problem with REC panels. The technology in REC’s N-Peak and Alpha cells stops these two elements from mixing at any level, thereby fully preventing any occurrence of LID. Thus, the panel’s power remains the same as when it left the REC factory – meaning you always get exactly the power levels that you paid for.
3. What are solar panels made from?
PV modules are made mainly from silicon, which is the second most abundant element in the earth's crust, making up about 27% of the average rock. There are no harmful materials or chemicals in the panels themselves, although to create the silicon cells that make up the panels there are some chemicals used. These chemicals can be recycled and reused in the manufacturing process. This is another reason that we use REC panels, because they are extremely careful with their manufacturing process and nothing gets wasted.
To learn more, watch our Solar 101 video. REC Key Account Manager Chris May shares some truly fascinating video about REC's manufacturing process.
4. Does solar panel manufacturing emit CO2, and if so, why is it considered green energy?
During the lifecycle of a PV system, the majority of greenhouse gas emissions occur during the manufacturing process and the shipping process. But, as solar panel manufacturing becomes more efficient, its carbon footprint shrinks significantly. In fact, a 2016 study reported that the overall emissions produced by solar manufacturing decreases by 17 to 24 percent every time install capacity doubles.
Considering that solar has seen exponential growth over the past decade, and our company alone tripled our installation rate in the past year, this rate of decrease in greenhouse emissions is clearly significant.
If your primary aim in going solar is to benefit the environment, you can rest easy knowing that while the manufacturing and shipping of solar panels produces greenhouse gas emissions, your panels are still much better for the environment than other options.
The overall greenhouse gas emissions involved in solar energy is still much lower than coal or natural gas. A 2011 report showed that solar’s carbon footprint averaged at roughly 85 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per gigawatt-hour (GWh), while natural gas and coal came in at 499 CO2e/GWh and 888 CO2e/GWh, respectively.
Of course, once your solar panel system is installed and producing electricity on your roof, it is 100 percent renewable and emission-free for its decades-long lifespan.
5. What happens once the panels have lived their full life and need to be recycled? How do I dispose of them ethically?
This is a question many people are thinking about right now. Because the solar industry is relatively new in the US, some panels are just now coming to the end of their useful life. End-of-life management is important for all PV technologies to ensure that solar remains a clean technology. The Solar Energy Industries Association has a national recycling program for panels that gives members access to SEIA-vetted PV recycling vendors and service providers.
May said he hopes there will eventually be a national mandate for solar panel recycling, similar to what is in place in Europe.
“The panels are essentially made of glass and aluminum. These are both easily recycled materials,” he said. “Of course, although the warranty is 25 years, the panels can last for four to five decades. Eventually as more panels come to the end of their life, I’m confident we’ll get a national mandate for recycling and catch up to where Europe is.”
We hope we’ve answered your most asked questions about solar panels! Of course we always love talking solar with you, so please reach out to us with questions any time. Give us a call at (866) 484-7786 or click below to get in touch!