Latest articles by The Solar Nerd

Keep up to date on industry news and articles relevant to green living and the solar homeowner.

Solar array on the ISS
How efficient are solar panels?
The photovoltaic effect was first discovered in 1839 by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel when he was 19 years old. Becquerel’s early experiments involved silver and platinum and generated only tiny amounts of electricity. It wasn’t until decades later that the first true solar cell was built using selenium by Charles Fritt in 1883. Those first cells still weren’t very efficient, only converting about 1% of the incoming light into electricity, but were a significant advancement.
Fraud alert
5 types of solar installer scams (with real examples)
There are thousands of rooftop solar installers across the United States, and most of them are honest companies that do good work. Unfortunately, like any industry, there’s always a few bad apples. There are great plumbers out there, but you could also end up with a company that tries to fix a leak with silly putty. This is why when you hire any type of contractor, whether it’s to install solar panels on your roof or fix a leaky toilet, it’s always a good idea to do a little research so that you can become a better informed consumer.
Example of a solar powered garden light
Best solar landscape lighting for your garden or patio
Those little solar powered landscape lights that you can buy almost anywhere are convenient, and look great too. The best part is being able to add landscape lighting to your yard without having to run wiring. Just stake them into the ground wherever you want, and you’re done! Where are often aren’t so great is product quality. I’ve thrown away a lot of cheap solar lights before concluding that I needed to spend a little more money to get something that I wasn’t going to break after only few months.
Photo of a solar array
How long do solar panels last?
Installing solar panels on your house is a pretty big investment - one that you’d like to last as long as possible. So how long should you expect your home solar array to last? Solar panels last a really long time. You can expect at least a 25 year lifespan. Premature failures do happen, but they are often covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Solar panels have been known to last much longer - as long as four decades - but there is little data because mass commercialization of photovoltaic panels really only started happening in the 1970s.
Photo of chainsaw.
What are half-cut solar panels?
Solar panel manufacturers are always competing against each other to squeeze the most power out of the same size solar panels. If you installed solar panels on your home 10 years ago, you probably had panels with efficiency in the mid-to-high teens (by percentage of light converted to electricity). Today, you can commonly find solar panels that convert more than 20% of the incoming light into electricity, with the current best residential panels hitting nearly 23% efficiency.
a garage
Can you install solar panels on a detached garage or shed?
The average size of a home solar installation in the United States is around 6 kilowatts, which is about 17 high efficiency premium solar panels, or more if you go with a cheaper panel. That many solar panels takes up a lot of space, and you would need a large available roof area to accommodate them. But sometimes, your roof might not be ideal for solar. It might be oriented east-west (which generates less power than a north-south orientation) or, more commonly, you might have shading from nearby trees or buildings.
Photo of a Goal Zero solar kit with power station/battery storage.
Solar panel kits for RV, camping, and other off-grid uses
If you like to get off the grid, whether it’s roughing it in a tent, or you’re more of a “glamper” who likes to stay comfortable in a boat or RV, you probably still like to have electricity to keep your devices powered. We’ve written articles about some of the solar technology you can use to make this happen, such as flexible solar panels, charge controllers, and solar phone chargers. However, if you have big power requirements that involve keeping a larger battery charged, things get a little more complicated.