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Every year, there’s a debate on whether to chop down a real, evergreen tree for Christmas festivities, or opt for an artificial tree made primarily from plastic in a factory. According to Greenpeace, you should keep an artificial Christmas tree in use for at least 8 years — but preferably 20 or more — to keep its lifetime emissions to a minimum.

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Hundreds of young people in Parliament Square take part in a Global Climate Strike to demand intersectional climate justice on September 24, 2021 in London, United Kingdom. Mark Kerrison / In Pictures / Getty Images

Climate campaigners are celebrating a “death blow” to a controversial UK oil exploration project after Shell announced it would no longer participate.

The fossil-fuel giant was set to explore the Cambo oilfield to the west of Shetland, but pulled out Thursday night, The Press and Journal reported.

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Lorena Canals

Rugs add a cozy aesthetic to the home, but they can also contribute to toxin exposure if you’re not careful when shopping around. How do you find the best sustainable rugs in a world where almost everything is mass produced with questionable chemicals involved?

There is a lot to consider in the search for a nontoxic rug you hope was ethically made. That’s especially true in a time where we are reevaluating our environmental impact every day. We rounded up four of the best sustainable rugs for any area of your home, from your living room to your outdoor space. Read on to learn more.

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A comet discovered on January 3 of this year by astronomer and senior researcher at the University of Arizona Gregory J. Leonard is visible from Earth this month. The comet was first observed at the Mount Lemmon Observatory just outside of Tucson, Arizona.

When Comet Leonard was first discovered it was near the orbit of Jupiter and extremely dim in the sky, but now that it’s closer to Earth it will be “the brightest comet this year,” Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society told USA TODAY.

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The impacts of volcanic eruptions show that dimming the sun can reduce temperatures. Taha Raja / 500px / Getty Images

Amazon is helping researchers look into what would happen if we tried to lessen the impacts of the climate crisis by blocking the sun.

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Food discarded by markets in a dumpster in New York City. Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
In the U.S., more than one-third of food produced goes to waste. While these organic compounds may seem harmless to toss in a landfill, food makes up 22% of waste in landfills and emits greenhouse gases, namely methane, as it rots. For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a report detailing just how much of an impact the country’s food waste has on climate change.
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Juan Silva / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Interested in going solar, but not sure how to install solar panels? As you’ll read in this article, the process requires more than ordering panels online and watching a few YouTube videos on how to install them. Unless you have electrical contracting experience, you’ll need to hire a solar company to carry out the solar panel installation itself.

Luckily, there are a number of reputable top solar companies with decades of solar experience to choose from. In addition to finding the best company for your home’s energy needs, there are a few steps you'll need to take to ensure your clean energy system is permitted and set up properly.

In this article, we'll walk through the steps you'll need to take when installing solar panels on your home or business. If you’re ready to start getting quotes from local installers near you, use this tool or fill out the form below.

5 Steps for Solar Panel Installation

By installing a home solar power system, you can reduce your dependence on traditional utility companies, offsetting the majority (or entirety) of your monthly energy bills. Plus, it offers a tangible method to curb your environmental footprint, making for cleaner, healthier communities.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the majority of what determines a successful solar project has little to do with the installation itself. Before getting into how to install solar panels, there are a couple of nuances to note off the bat.

First, installing solar panels requires thorough knowledge of solar technology, design and engineering. In other words, the average person will likely want to avoid a DIY solar panel installation and leave the process to professional local installers. A properly designed PV system will provide far more savings on the backend than most DIY installations will save on the front.

The second thing to consider is that solar panel installation won't happen overnight. Even after you choose the best solar panels for the job, there are a few vital steps in the installation process essential for ensuring a reliable, effective and efficient renewable energy system.

Here are the basic steps of solar panel installation:

1) Complete a Site Survey With an Engineer

Once you choose the best solar installation company for your home and sign a contract, the company will send an engineer to your home to evaluate your current electrical system, ensuring everything is compatible with your intended solar panel system design. This engineer may be an employee of the solar company or an independent contractor.

Be aware that if you have an old and outdated electrical system, the engineer may tell you that it needs to be upgraded or replaced. This is generally an indication that your new solar energy system will require more amps than what your current electrical system can accommodate.

In addition to checking out your electrical system, the engineer will also want to inspect your roof. They'll need to ensure it is structurally sound and able to support the weight of solar paneling. Also, the engineer will be able to tell you if you need a specialized mounting system, such as for a flat roof.

A solar energy system will only perform as well as it’s designed, so hiring a trustworthy solar engineer is one of the most important steps in the process. Still looking for an installation company? Click here to get connected with a solar installer in your area and receive a free quote.

2) Secure the Right Permits

Before your solar panel installation, you'll have a few bureaucratic hoops to jump through. Specifically, you'll need to obtain all the right permits and documentation to ensure your solar panel installation is legal, meeting all local safety and zoning requirements. You wouldn’t believe the headaches that can accompany an installation carried out before permits are issued.

This step may sound intimidating, but here's the good news: While there is plenty of paperwork associated with installing solar panels, the majority of it is handled by your solar company. You may not have to do much at all beyond lending a signature here and there, but it's still important to have some sense of what's happening behind the scenes.

Here’s what your solar installer will file for:

  • Local electrical and/or building permits on your behalf
  • Interconnection agreement with your local utility (in other words, permission from your utility to install solar and enroll in net metering)
  • Applications for state or federal incentive programs that curb the upfront cost of solar panels

By completing this paperwork, you can potentially secure rebates, tax credits or other financial assistance to offset installation costs.

It will take your solar installer some time to submit all the paperwork, and even longer for governmental bodies to process all the information — sometimes several weeks or more. It’s not a bad idea to follow up and get updates every few days, just to make sure the process is still moving forward smoothly. Solar companies are busy with business, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

3) Order the Right Equipment

Once you have all the correct permits and paperwork in place, your solar installer will be ready to order your equipment.

Note that, by this point, you will already have picked out the types of solar panels you need and the best solar batteries and inverters for your home. These decisions are typically laid out in a solar proposal, sent well before you sign your contract.

Naturally, you'll want to make sure you research how solar panels work and the different options available to you. Whether you want the most efficient solar panels or the most affordable, your solar installer can help you pick equipment that will help you achieve your solar energy goals.

Once your solar equipment is ordered, your name will be added to the installer's queue. Basically, this means you'll be put on the schedule for an installer to assemble your solar panels as soon as they arrive from the distributor.

4) Get Your Solar Panels Installed

Finally, the big day arrives. Your solar installer will show up and begin preparing your roof, specifically by verifying that all tiles or shingles are securely attached. Then, the installer will place the wiring that's needed to connect your residential solar system to the electrical system.

After the wires are placed, your installer will place racking, which is used to hold the solar panels in position. The panels are placed into the racks, and the inverter (or several microinverters) is connected to the panels. If you have a battery bank, your installer will also set that up.

One of the most common questions about installing solar panels is how long the work will take. It all depends on the size of your home and the scope of the solar panel installation, but you can anticipate a timeline of one to three days in total.

If your solar system is properly designed and planned out, this step of the process should actually be the most straightforward.

5) Get your system approved and connected.

Once the system is in place, your installer will essentially "flip the switch" to turn it on. Before this happens, you'll likely need a municipal government representative to assess and approve your residential solar system, issuing what’s called permission to operate (PTO). Basically, this is just a safety precaution, ensuring there's a fresh set of eyes to validate the wiring and electrical work.

You'll also need a representative from your local utility company to interconnect the system, which means hooking it up to the electrical grid. This allows you to keep drawing electricity when you need it, as well as safely feed any surplus energy back into the grid, which can result in credits from your utility company via net metering programs.

Questions About How to Install Solar Panels?

These five steps represent the basics of how to install solar panels. But of course, these are just general guidelines, and specific steps can vary from home to home and from installer to installer.

If you have additional questions about how to install solar panels, a good next step would be to seek out the top solar companies in your area and make an appointment for a consultation. You can ask more about specific solar panel installation processes and what you might expect if you decide to make the leap into solar power.

You can fill out the quick form below or use this tool to get a free quote and book a consultation with a certified solar energy installer in your area.

FAQ: How to Install Solar Panels

Can I install solar panels on my home myself?

Technically speaking, yes, you can install solar panels on your own home. However, we don’t recommend this unless you have experience as an electrician and advanced knowledge of solar energy.

Though we don’t doubt your ability to pull off a satisfying DIY home project, the modern technology solar companies use to design and plan solar installations can provide far more long-term benefits than the savings you might secure from installing solar panels yourself.

How many solar panels are needed to power a house?

The number of solar panels needed to power a house will vary depending on the amount of electricity your home consumes. As a minimum, however, we’d expect most homes will require at least 10 panels.

How do you install solar panels step by step?

Solar panels are installed roughly in the following order. Note that unless you have electrical contracting experience, we recommend homeowners hire professionals to carry this out.

Step 1: Install your racking or build a platform for the solar panels

Step 2: Mount and secure the solar panels on the racking

Step 3: Wire the solar panels

Step 4: Connect the wiring to your control panel

Step 5: Ground your system for safety purposes

Step 6: Connect your solar array to your home

Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
Carbon Engineering's pilot plant in British Columbia. Carbon Engineering
In British Columbia, Canadian clean energy company Huron Clean Energy and its partner Carbon Engineering Ltd. have plans to create a revolutionary fuel for cars, airplanes and ships.
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A Brocken spectre above the village of Hayfield in the Derbyshire Peak District. John Finney Photography / Getty Images

We’re all familiar with rainbows, tornados, and shooting stars. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to see Aurora Borealis, or even bioluminescent waves rolling in from the ocean. Our planet exhibits such awe-inspiring natural phenomena wherever we look: at its highest peaks, deepest ice formations, or right in our own backyards.

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Plastic pollution keeps accumulating in the ocean. lindsay_imagery / E+ / Getty Images

The United States is the world’s leader in the generation of plastic waste, nearly all from fossil fuels, and must develop a plan to curb its destructive impacts on the health of oceans and marine wildlife, concludes a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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In March, the material entered the high fashion world for the first time as a Hermès Victoria bag. MycoWorks

Could mushrooms create a vegan leather that doesn’t harm animals or contribute to the climate crisis?

In the past year, high fashion has turned to a material called mycelium, which can be grown from fungi in weeks but has the look and feel of calfskin. Experts think that working with mushrooms could give designers a more sustainable relationship with waste.

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Solar Panel Recycling 101

Can solar panels be recycled?

Renewable Energy
Voyagerix / Getty Images

Despite challenges to growth from the pandemic, the U.S. solar energy market set another record with 19.2 GW of solar installed in 2020. That’s well over 50 million solar panels. Over the next 10 years, the Solar Energy Industries Association projects that nearly 350 GW will be installed, more than 18 times the amount of solar installed in 2020. That means more than 1 billion solar panels will be actively collecting solar energy throughout the U.S. alone over the next decade.

This pace of growth is tremendous — and great news for the environment. However, we at EcoWatch won’t deny that solar panels do have an impact (albeit a nominal one when compared to that of oil drilling, fracking or coal mining). One of the most common challenges surrounding solar energy is the amount of waste that these panels will produce after their 25-year lifespan.

In order to avoid an onslaught of e-waste accompanying our rapid solar development, scientists are developing ways to recycle solar panels, minimizing their environmental impact. Entrepreneurs and economists alike are also eyeing the huge financial value that a practical recycling method would offer.

So, can solar panels be recycled? The short answer is yes, but the process needs refining. Here’s what we know.

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Anika Albrecht of Ocean Voyages Institute, on a 2020 expedition collecting plastic in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, where she served as chief mate. Ocean Voyages Institute 2020 Gyre Expedition

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, or the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” stretches for more than 610,000 square miles between California and Hawai’i. The gyre hosts around 79,000 metric tons of microplastics, nets, buoys and bottles. And, in a surprising turn, coastal life.

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