Society and technology have truly come a long way. From fixed fires in the hearth to gas and electric lighting, it makes sense to want to upgrade your business with a commercial solar energy system.
However, like with any early adoption, it pays to conduct a thorough evaluation. In fact, it’s likely the only way to determine the best process to incorporate solar technology with your commercial building.
1. Solar Technology
When considering a solar energy system, it’s important to differentiate between solar technologies and solar power systems.
Solar technology has two dominating categories — solar thermal power (CSP) and photovoltaics (PV). When you see residential homes and commercial buildings with solar panels, it’s likely using PV. On the other hand, CSP, which uses mirrors and heat, is typically found in large power plants.
2. Solar Cells
Most people don’t realize that it’s not the solar panels that convert energy. Rather, it’s the solar cells contained in arrays that make up a solar panel.
Arrays are thousands of individual solar cells grouped together. Currently, there are about 24 unique types of solar cells that can be broadly categorized into three groups.
1. Crystalline Silicon
The majority of PV cells are crystalline silicon (c-Si) wafers. They come from lab-grown ingots, which take approximately a month to grow fully and can form into single or multiple crystals.
From these large ingots, the single crystals are used for monocrystalline silicon (mono-Si) cells and solar panels. At the same time, the polycrystalline cells and solar panels (poly c-Si) use the multi-crystals.
Monocrystalline cells have a distinctive color and are cylindrical. They provide the most efficient energy conversion, but cutting the cells to shape can be somewhat wasteful.
On the other hand, polycrystalline cells don’t go to waste because they’re melted and poured into the arrays. However, this process diminishes some of its effectiveness.
2. Thin Film
Thin-film solar cells are also PV cells but are about 100 times thinner than c-Si. These use amorphous silicon (a-Si). However, they’re not limited to a-Si. They can also be made from organic PV, copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) or cadmium-telluride (Cd-Te).
They’re by far the cheapest and most flexible option because they can be laminated onto various surfaces. These surfaces include glass, skylights and roofing tiles. However, the benefit of flexibility means decreased levels of efficiency compared to c-Si cells.
3. Third Generation
Third-generation cells are the latest and greatest in solar cell technology. These solar cells pick, choose and combine the best qualities of c-Si and thin-film cells. The end result is a sustainable product that’s efficient, practical and cheaper to produce.
3. Types of Solar Energy System
There are three types of systems that dominate the industry. Depending on your building’s location and usage requirements, one type will be better suited than another.
1. Grid-Tied Solar Energy System and Power Outages
First, you have a grid-tied solar system that connects to the local power grid. This system is excellent for those in cloudy places who worry about not having enough electricity or suffer from power outages.
You save money on your energy bills by first using up all your converted energy from the sun and can then tap into the grid on an as-needed basis.
Another benefit is net metering. This is when your system produces excess energy and sends it back to the grid in return for credits on the next electricity bill. However, not every state or municipality offers net metering, in which case a hybrid system may be more advantageous.
Being tied to the grid also means that these systems require less equipment, which reduces the overall cost. If the upfront costs are a deterrent, consider calculating how much a grid-tied system would be and how much you could save in the long run.
2. Off-Grid Solar Energy System and Battery Storage
These systems are best for commercial buildings that use some means to be completely energy independent. Off-grid systems can be more expensive because they require larger batteries and other materials.
They work best with smaller commercial buildings designed to conserve energy in any way possible. For example, a solar panel generator and energy-efficient windows are extra measures you can take.
However, off-grid systems aren’t an end-all-be-all to your remote commercial building. That’s because the batteries have limited storage capacity that can get quickly used up.
Finally, there’s a hybrid system which is a combination of the other two. They’re connected to the grid but also come with extra battery storage.
Hybrid systems may prove the most beneficial if you find your commercial building uses a lot of power. The system first uses the energy stored in batteries and then calls on the grid when demand exceeds solar energy production. As an added benefit, hybrid system owners can take advantage of net metering.
4. Does Your Commercial Building Require Battery Storage?
It may seem like the obvious answer is to get a solar system with battery energy storage, but it’s not necessary in some cases. For example, battery storage has minimal financial benefit if you have a grid-tied system in an area that offers net metering.
On the other hand, commercial buildings prone to constant blackouts will certainly benefit from a hybrid system. That way, you have energy stored for blackout conditions and net metering to assist with monthly costs.
5. DIY or Professional Installation?
While the commercial solar panel cost isn’t cheap, it’s never recommended to install it yourself. More often than not, the DIY installation ends up costing more than hiring a professional.
Installing solar panels comes with risks easily overlooked that can cause significant issues down the line. For example, incorrectly connecting a single wire can lead to electrocution, fires or your panels not working at all.
Without adequate roofing knowledge, a DIYer can accidentally damage the roof and cause leaks. Additionally, many solar panels require a licensed professional to install for the warranty to be valid.
By taking the chance and doing it yourself, you run the risk of voiding your warranty and missing out on compensation if anything goes wrong. However, if you’re adamant about self-installation, double-check for building permits and regulations.
The last thing you want is to complete a perfect job, only to have your local authorities come and tell you to take it down within a week.
Ordering a Solar Panel System for Your Commercial Building
As you can tell, a lot goes into solar panels and determining which type is best for your commercial building. However, you shouldn’t let that deter you from making your building eco-friendly.
The most efficient way to determine the best system is to shop around. Your local companies can present valuable insight into any specific incentives offered by your state.