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Where to Buy Solar Panels: 2021 Solar Purchasing Guide

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solar panel purchasing guide
Sebastian Rothe / EyeEm / Getty Images

Installing solar panels on your home can dramatically reduce both your dependence on traditional utility companies and your environmental impact. One of the first steps to switching to renewable energy is figuring out where to buy solar panels.

In this article, we'll help you figure out how to buy solar panels, as well as how to find the best solar panels for your home and what other equipment you'll need to complete your solar power system. As you prepare to purchase solar panels, consider a few recommendations about where and how to make a smart investment.

Where Can You Buy Solar Panels?

The first consideration for you to make is where to buy solar panels. Really, this comes down to a question of whether you'll install your home solar system yourself or hire a professional installer.

DIY Solar Panel Installation

Installing your own solar panels can potentially give you the opportunity to save money, and it also gives you greater control over the final configuration of your home solar system. Be aware, however, that there can be significant downsides.

First, this is complex, technical work, requiring careful knowledge of electrical installation and how solar panels work. If you're unskilled or inexperienced working with electricity, solar installation can be difficult and dangerous. Additionally, going with DIY solar panels means you won't reap the benefits of experienced solar designers, who can help you set up the optimal energy-generating, money-saving system.

If you do choose to buy solar panels and install them on your own, you can purchase panels from:

  • Manufacturer websites
  • Hardware stores
  • Amazon.com (where you can buy full solar panel kits)

Choosing an Installer

If you decide to go with professional solar panel installation, you'll need to choose between hiring a local or national company.

A local installer will usually be able to offer you more personalized service, more affordable prices and more intimate knowledge of local solar trends. The flip side is that nationwide installers can often have access to a wider range of solar products, like the most efficient solar panels and the best solar batteries in the industry. This can give you more options to maximize the power output and durability of your system.

There's not really a right or wrong answer here, and in fact, the best approach may be to interview two or three installers that service your area before making your decision.

How to Buy Solar Panels

As for how to buy solar panels, your next steps will once more depend on whether you hire a professional or go the DIY route.

Buying Your Own Solar System

One way to go is to research, design your own home solar system and purchase the parts you'll need.

Part of this is determining how many solar panels will be necessary, which hinges on an array of factors: The amount of electricity your household consumes, the surface area available on your roof, the amount of sun exposure your roof receives and more. Note that, if you have limited roof space and cannot place as many solar panels as you might like, you'll need to ensure that the solar panels you do get are extra-efficient. (We'll get into the different types of solar panels below.)

Also, remember that designing a solar system requires more than just panels. You'll also need to think about other solar equipment, including inverters, chargers, wiring and possibly a battery (which we'll also get into later in this article).

Hiring an Installer

The other option is to hire a solar installer who will buy solar panels on your behalf. Note that, because installers access wholesale prices, they can actually help you save money on your equipment costs, though of course you'll have to pay for the labor.

The general steps in the process are as follows:

  1. Consultation: Meet with a few of your area's top solar companies to compare pricing and solicit opinions about your home's eligibility for solar power.
  2. System design: Once you choose a solar installer, a representative will take a look at your roof and design a solar system that meets your energy goals. This is a crucial step, as solar installation is never one-size-fits-all.
  3. Permitting: Depending on where you live, you may require permits and approvals from your municipality before your solar system can be installed. Your installer can handle all of this on your behalf.
  4. Installation: Once you receive the needed permits, your installer can begin work to assemble your system. This may take anywhere from a day to a full week depending on the complexity of your residential solar needs.
  5. Review and approval: Many municipalities will require you to have your system inspected for safety before it's "switched on."
  6. Using your system: After you get this final approval, you'll be ready to start using your solar panels.
  7. Applying for tax credits: Professional installation companies will often help you identify and apply for any solar tax credits and rebates you may be eligible for through federal and local government programs.

Find a Solar Installer Near You

What Type of Solar Panel Should You Buy?

Before you buy solar panels, it's crucial to know the three basic types of photovoltaic panels that are available to you: monocrystalline, polycrystalline (also known as multicrystalline) and thin-film. The major differentiators of these options have to do with the efficiency and cost of the solar panels:

Type of Solar Panels Advantages Disadvantages
Monocrystalline solar panels Higher efficiency and better performance than either of the other two types Higher upfront cost than the other two types
Polycrystalline solar panels More affordable than monocrystalline Lower efficiency than monocrystalline
Thin-film solar panels Portable and flexible Lowest efficiency of the three types of panels

Other Equipment You'll Need to Buy for Your Solar Panel System

An important note: For homeowners with limited surface area on their roofs, it may be necessary to get the most efficient panels possible. In other words, if you only have space for a small assembly of solar panels, you may need to make them monocrystalline.

If you're doing your own installation, when you buy solar panels, you may also need to purchase the following:

  • Inverter: Converts direct current (DC) solar energy into the alternating current (AC) electricity needed to power your home.
  • Battery: Allows you to store excess energy for future use rather than feeding it back into the electrical grid.
  • Mounting system: Helps you stabilize your solar panels in their proper rooftop position.
  • Wiring: Connects your residential solar system to your electrical panel.
  • Solar charge controller: Helps regulate voltage and prevent batteries from overcharging.

Final Thoughts: Where to Buy Solar Panels

As you consider where to buy solar panels, you'll need to make some crucial decisions about whether to go with professional or DIY installation, as well as the type of solar panels and any other equipment you'll need to buy. Make sure you have a full understanding of your energy needs — and the complexity of the solar installation process — before you make any final decisions about your home's solar power system.

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