What to Know About SolarCity Panels

What Is SolarCity?

SolarCity currently markets, manufactures, and installs residential and commercial solar panels and solar roofs in the United States. They offer residential battery backup services as well as the installment of the SolarCity roof, both of which are incorporated into Tesla's solar energy department. SolarCity was acquired by Tesla in 2016, and their energy storage services are now sold through Tesla. The merge between SolarCity and Tesla has fundamentally changed the dynamics of solar energy and solar panels. 

Evolution of the Solar Panels

The history of solar panels and solar energy starts back in 1876. William Grylls Adams and his student, Richard Day, discover that electricity can be produced when selenium is exposed to light. Their discovery eventually developed into the first functional solar cell, which is a fundamental building block of solar panels. Despite the fact that the selenium cells are not very efficient, it is enough to prove that light can be converted into electricity.  

Solar Panel Evolution Timeline

1953: 

Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, and Daryl Chapin discover the silicon solar cell. This cell is significantly more capable than selenium solar cells and is able to produce enough electricity to run small electrical devices. 

1956: 

Solar cells go commercial. However, the cost is far from the reach of everyday people. At $300 ($2,759 in 2018) for a single watt solar cell, the expense is far too expensive for practical use. 

1960s:

Solar power becomes the standard for powering all space-bound satellites in the Russian and USA’s space programs.

1970s:

The price of solar cells drops dramatically. The drop from $100 per watt to roughly $20 per watt, makes commercial use more realistic.

1980s-1990s:

The commercial use of solar panels explodes. Solar cells and solar panels begin to power homes, remote electronic devices, and expands telecommunication capabilities. It is even discovered that desert regions can pull water from the air and soil when solar panels are installed.

Today:

Solar cells and solar panels continue to grow and begin to impact almost every facet of daily living, ranging from electric cars being powered by solar power to aircraft flying on nothing but solar power. As the price of solar panels and solar cells continue to decrease, the application of this technology continues to rapidly grow and impact all of our lives.  

Uses for Solar Panels

Solar Powered Ventilation:

Every day, thousands of bathroom fans, floor fans, and ceiling fans are used to control the temperature of homes. Think about how much energy could be saved if all of those fans were to be powered by solar power. Individually powered solar fans have been created to help decrease your reliance on carbon-heavy energy, and might also save you a few bucks.

Heating Your Swimming Pool with Solar Energy:

Pools can be the highlight of every summer outing, except for when they are too cold to get in. Heating an entire pool can be extremely expensive and usually relies on carbon-heavy electricity. Now you can decrease your electric bill and use more environmentally friendly electricity by using either a Solar Blanket or a Solar Hot Water Heating System. Both systems utilize solar technology and solar energy to properly heat a pool. 

Solar Energy Can Heat Your Water:

Traditional water heaters are extremely inefficient and require a constant source of energy to maintain water temperature. This is both costly and environmentally harmful. By switching to a Solar Water Heater you will see an increase in efficiency by 15-30%. Switching will also decrease your electric bill and is a more environmentally conscious choice. There is usually a greater up-front cost associated with the change, but you will save money over the years due to the decreased electric bill.

Solar Energy Can Heat Your Home:

Solar heating (not heating from solar electricity) can be referred to as passive space heating. Here are two examples of how it works: First, by using sun-heated tubes of water on your roof you can efficiently heat your entire home. The heated water from the roof will also cycle through to your water heater. Secondly, by utilizing a sunroom, where the majority of the walls are glass, you can filter in the heat through a collector called a transparent covering in the glass. Now, if plants and rocks are added for a nice visual element, the rocks store and release heat when the temperature in the room drops. These plants and rocks act just like a battery, releasing energy when needed. 

Solar Energy for Battery Charging:

What happens when the sun goes down and your solar systems are no longer providing you with the energy you require? The Powerwall is a home battery system that stores energy generated throughout the day to be used at a later time. The Powerwall is the child of the merging of Tesla and SolarCity and is found in an ever-growing number of homeowners' garages.

Use Solar Energy to Power Your Home:

Solar panels and solar roofs can truly power entire homes and commercial buildings. By simply adding solar panels to your home you begin to collect sunlight and convert it into electricity. The generated power is usually in the form of DC (direct current) and must be converted to AC through an inverter. Through the use of transfer switches and other safety devices, your clean, renewable, power source is capable of powering your entire home and everything inside of it.

What Is Unique about SolarCity Solar Panels?

In a conventional setup, solar panels are housed in a dedicated module, which is then attached to a roof or installed elsewhere on your property. In contrast, Tesla’s Solar Roof is a rooftop with solar panels embedded directly into the shingles; therefore, the solar array isn’t installed on your roof, it is your roof.

Essentially, each shingle is a discrete solar panel. Keep in mind that not every single shingle is solar-enabled; only a pre-determined percentage of shingles are actually solar-enabled. The non-enabled panels look exactly the same, in an effort to maintain a uniform aesthetic. Having an aesthetically pleasing solar system is fundamental for global adoption of solar technology. As stated by Elon Musk, “I think there’s quite a radical difference between having solar panels on your roof that actually make your house look better versus ones that do not. I think it’s going to be a night-and-day difference.”

What to Know About Solar City Panels


Besides being extremely good-looking, Tesla’s solar roof is unparalleled when it comes to strength and durability. Musk demonstrates the strength of his new roofing product by dropping and even shooting heavyweights on three common roof shingles as well as his own. The Tesla roof is the only one that can withstand the weight and pressure. To back this claim, the Solar roof comes with an unlimited lifetime warranty in regards to the shingle. The new roof is offered in four designs: Tuscan glass tile, slate glass tile, textured glass tile, and smooth glass tile.

Pros and Cons of SolarCity’s Solar Roof

Pros

  • THE WOW FACTOR: It’s gorgeous—no blocky solar panels jutting out from your roof.
  • DURABILITY: Solar Roof panels receive the highest possible hail, wind and fire resistance ratings.
  • WARRANTY: The 30-year warranty goes beyond the industry standard. There’s also a lifetime tile warranty to cover physical damage.
  • TALK OF THE TOWN: Who doesn’t love to be the first to get their hands on new tech?

Cons

  • EXPENSIVE: The Solar Roof costs about 4 times as much as a DIY solar installation, even if you hire a contractor to help. Though the former gives you a new roof, you still pay a steep premium for the Tesla brand.
  • THE WAITING GAME: The first residential customers spent over a year on the waitlist before their Solar Roofs were installed.
  • UNRELIABLE: More discrete parts mean more chances for hardware to fail. Past iterations of the solar shingle design are notoriously high-maintenance.
  • POOR RETURN ON INVESTMENT: You pay a premium for Tesla-branded roofing products, which eats into your investment.

Future of Solar Panels

In 2015, MIT published an extensive, 365-page study on the future of solar energy. The study states, “Solar electricity generation is one of the very few low-carbon energy technologies with the potential to grow to a very large scale.” The study also predicts the development of current solar technologies to continue up to the year 2050. MIT also believes that solar energy has the potential to generate multi-terawatt scale power. Currently, the largest solar farm only has a 550-megawatt capacity. 

New technological breakthroughs continue to happen every day. Solar panels will continue to increase in efficiency and become cheaper and simpler to produce. Currently, talented researchers and engineers across the globe work hard to improve the technologies we have today. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that technological advancements in this century are rapid. Are you ready to embrace a completely solar future?

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Tyler Farr
 

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