A Quick Primer on Solar Panels

(This article was written for Vallarta Tribune, edition # 1165.)

There was a time not too long ago when the sight of solar panels in local homes or businesses was rare, and often dismissed as an expensive commodity. Nowadays, it is difficult to drive more than a few minutes anywhere around Banderas Bay without spotting them in roofs or fields. As a source of clean, renewable energy solar panels are now more affordable than ever, and given the increasing concern of the impact that fossil fuel-generated energy has on our planet, they are quickly becoming a necessity. 

How do they work? In a nutshell, photovoltaic solar panels have the ability to absorb sunlight and convert it into energy. Research related to this ability can be traced back to the 19th century. Needless to say, however, the technology involved in photovoltaic research has improved tremendously through time, resulting in panels that are incredibly efficient and increasingly affordable.

Solar panels produce what is known as direct current electricity (DC), the type found in common batteries. Since most homes and businesses run on alternating current electricity (AC), the energy produced by solar panels must pass through a special device (called inverter) to transform it into usable energy. Once transformed, the energy is either used to power your home or is sent back to the city’s electrical grid. Depending on the number of panels you install and your personal lifestyle, you can end up with a dramatically reduced electrical bill, or practically no bill at all if your panels produce less energy than you consume.

The installation of solar panels in your home will not only reduce your electrical bill. There are many environmental benefits associated with the technology, the most important being a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. In many cases, not only will you save money on your electricity bills; you will also protect yourself against increasing energy rates in the future. Of course, the savings will largely depend on your location and the utility rates in your area. But here in Banderas Bay, we are guaranteed direct sunlight more often than not, and our location in relation to the equator means that the intensity of the sun translates into more efficient energy production than, say, if you were living in Calgary.

Another plus: homes with solar panel installations have a higher resell value than those without them, particularly if you own, rather than lease the panels. Are you thinking of redoing your kitchen prior to selling your home? Install electrical panels instead. More than likely you’ll get more bang from your buck in your property sale.

Case Study: Katharine Rochelle

When Katharine Rochelle purchased her Aralias home back in 2016, she knew she wanted to invest in solar panels, but other priorities prevented her from moving forward with the installation until earlier this year. “I knew the cost of electricity here was high and I wanted to be comfortable and not worry about the bills,” she commented. An early adopter friend of hers living in an air-conditioned home with a small pool in Fluvial and a close-to-zero bill also made the proposition seem very attractive at the time.

Katharine was finally able to save enough money to invest in solar panels earlier this year. By then, there were several companies providing the sale and installation of solar panels, so she chose one that was recommended to her, “a very wise idea,” she added. These companies not only sell and install the solar panels; they generate the work order for Mexico’s electricity provider (Comision Federal de Electricidad, or CFE) to install a new electricity meter in your home.

Why is a new meter important? Most meters are unidiriectional. That is, they measure the amount of electricity going into your house. When you begin producing your own electricity, a bidirectional meter is necessary to measure the surplus energy you produce.

It took less than a month for Katharine’s installation to take place, from the day in which the panels were installed and tested (early April), to the CFE installation of a bidirectional meter. The latest electrical bill for her air-conditioned home was $73 MXN. She volunteered a few words of advice:

  • Get more panels than you’ll need in case you are planning to remodel or enhance your home later on.
  • Inverters are paired with panels according to the amount of energy your panels will produce. Katharine suggests getting a bigger inverter than you’ll need in case you decide to add more panels later on.
  • Getting CFE to switch meters was the most time-consuming part given the increasing number of work orders the company is handling. Since there is no way to know where you are in the queue, it helps to resort to one’s family and friends network, i.e. someone who may know someone in CFE that can expedite your work order.
  • Now, she generates electricity during daylight hours that gets sent back into the grid, so she gets credit. At night time, the grid sends electricity into her home as needed. If her consumption exceeds her credit, she has to pay. If not, she continues to get credit.
  • Again, look for recommendations for a reputable, local solar panel company on Facebook or among your friends. You will not only be saving money. You will be saving our planet.

Image by Maria Godfrida from Pixabay.

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