What Are Solar Panels? | Solar By CIR

About Solar Panels

What Are Solar Panels?

Solar panels are flat, rectangular pieces that vary in size, electrical output (measured in Watts), efficiency, and even color. Most solar panels measure about 3 feet by 5 feet, have either a black or silver metallic frame, with a grid pattern that usually appears dark blue or black in the light. The panels contain silicon cells that capture sunlight and create a flow of direct current (DC) electricity.

Panels can be mounted on a building’s roof or installed on a ground-mount racking structure. To determine the best location for a solar installation, we look at where the panels can be positioned to absorb the most sunlight to optimize the system’s energy production. In the Northern Hemisphere, facing south is typically ideal. Not everyone has a roof suitable for solar panels, so ground mounts may be the best alternative.

How Solar Panels Work

Sunlight particles called photons are absorbed by photovoltaic (PV) cells in solar panels. These particles then flow through the semi-conductive materials in the panels, creating energy that can be converted into electricity.

How Solar Energy Is Converted Into Electricity

When sunlight hits a solar panel cell, the photons in the sunlight interact with the silicon atoms in the panel to release electrons, which are captured by wiring inside the panels to create direct current (DC) electricity. An inverter then converts DC electricity to alternating current (AC) electricity, which is what powers homes and businesses.

Are Solar Panels Worth it in NY?

In places like Buffalo and Rochester, people commonly ask if it’s worthwhile to install solar panels given the amount of snow and cold weather the area experiences each year.

The answer is – yes!

Most solar panels work best in cold, sunny conditions. Cold temperatures actually increase the panels’ ability to conduct energy, meaning electricity flows more efficiently when it’s cooler outside. Higher temperatures can do the opposite—as solar panels get hotter, they produce less power from the same amount of light.

Snowy and cloudy weather can reduce the amount of energy produced by your solar panels, but they can still work efficiently in these conditions. In fact, Germany, a country that gets far less sun than Western New York, has one of the most successful solar initiatives in the world. In our area, we install panels at a precise angle to allow snow to slide right off.


Which Solar Panels Are Right for MY Property?

Based on your electrical needs, site specifications, and budget, our expert team will help you select the optimal panel models and installation design to fit your unique circumstances. We only use high-quality, trusted brands for all of our solar panels and equipment, including:


rec solar panel

REC Premium

Internal testing that’s up to three times more stringent than industry standards ensures reliability for the lifetime of the product and strong performance even in the most extreme environments.

Products and production processes are certified and endorsed by independent third parties according to multiple global and regional industry standards. REC panels have also been recently recognized as a Top Performer in the DNV-GL Module Reliability Scorecard, proving their market-leading quality.

Panels built with quality materials avoid power loss due to degradation (LID, PID), generate more power, and earn/save more money as a result.

Additional product warranties are offered.

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Made in America with premium quality materials and a panel design engineered specifically for the North American climate.

Strict quality controls at fully automated, ISO certified manufacturing facilities from a company that has earned an “Excellent” rating on Energysage.com.

40 years of solar expertise with extensive international experience, knowledge, and partnerships within the solar industry offer advantages in product innovation and leading-edge solar manufacturing technologies.

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enphase inverter

Enphase Inverters

Gold Status Installer

IQ8 Microinverters are the industry’s first grid-forming solar panel microinverters with split-phase power conversion capability to convert DC power to AC power efficiently.

Provides Sunlight Backup during grid outages with proprietary technology that makes switching between on or off grid virtually seamless.

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Tesla batteries

Tesla Powerwall Batteries

Authorized Installer

Powerwall is an integrated battery system that stores your solar energy for backup protection, so when the grid goes down your power stays on. Your system detects outages and automatically recharges with sunlight to keep your appliances running for days.

Energy Capacity is 13.5 kWh each; up to 10 Powerwalls can be installed in one site.

Water and dust resistant unit Installation options include floor or wall mounted, indoor or outdoor in temperatures ranging from -4°F to 122°F.

Meets US and International safety and EMI standards and comes with a 10-year warranty.

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All solar panels installed by CIR come with a 25-year product, performance, and labor warranty.


Solar Options for Your Property

We offer two main methods of going solar: Rooftop and Ground-Mounted.

Rooftop Solar

Rooftop solar systems are common because they make sense in many ways. Aesthetically, solar panels on the rooftop can keep them out of sight. They also don’t take up space you would normally use.

Installing a rooftop solar array is a fairly common and quick practice these days as well. For many homeowners, rooftop solar is usually the way to go. But it isn’t practical for every home or situation. There are times you might need to look into other options.

There are some situations where rooftop solar isn’t an option:

  • Limited roof space
  • Too much shading from trees or nearby structures
  • An older roof that you’re not interested in updating at the moment

Ground-Mounted Solar

There are a couple variations for ground-mounted solar. One option is a standard ground mount, where solar panels are secured to a stationary metal frame close to the ground.

The other option is pole mounting, which often incorporates solar tracking. These are both great choices with the following advantages:

  • Optimal positioning towards the south (or even following the sun)
  • No space limitations, which means as many panels (and as much power) as you want
  • Easily avoid shading by picking an optimal location
  • No roof upgrade needed

If you own a lot of land, it might be worth looking into ground solar anyway. You have more control over positioning your panels or even purchasing a tracking system. These moveable ground mounts follow the sun’s position in the sky, which can significantly increase how much power your panels produce.

Better energy production means more energy savings sooner. Of course, you’ll need to compare these benefits with the added cost of ground mounts. These systems require more hardware and labor, including trenching from the system to your inverter and panel box.

Our Energy Advisors can help you easily figure out what is best for you.


Solar Power in Buffalo, NY: Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve created a library of facts and educational resources to help dispel common myths about solar.

  • How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

    Cost vary depending on the size of your installation, equipment, and rebates available. Learn more about the cost of solar panels, how long they take to return their investment, and more on our Solar Panel Costs page.

  • Can You Install Solar Panels Yourself?

    It’s not recommended. Solar panel systems are complex, requiring very specific infrastructure considerations, panel placement, and equipment choices, and should be installed by experts. To learn more about how we install solar panels, check out our solar installation page.

  • What Solar Equipment Do I Need for My Home?

    Complete solar systems include solar panels, solar inverters, monitoring systems, and racking systems. In some cases, people choose to install solar batteries and storage.

  • How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

    Most solar panels last 25 years. As a rule of thumb, they “last” until they are below 80% efficiency. If you partner with Solar by CIR, we offer you a free SolarHub that tells you how efficient your system is.

  • Do Solar Panels Ruin Your Roof?

    If properly installed and flashed by a professional, a solar system should not damage the existing roof structure. The purpose of flashing a solar array is to create a watertight seal that protects the home from moisture and leak damage. There will also be a third party structural analysis conducted to ensure that the roof structure can handle the active weight, wind, and snow loads of the solar array. If anything, the panels are protecting the roof structure below from sun damage and will potentially expand the lifespan of asphalt shingles especially.

  • Do Solar Panels Work Well in Cold Climates?

    Most solar panels actually work best in cold, sunny conditions—in fact, many countries with more advanced solar adoption have cold climates similar to ours. Solar panel technology is most efficient when cool temperatures allow energy to flow more efficiently than hotter days, which slow down panels’ ability to produce electricity.

  • What if Solar Panels Get More Efficient? Should I Wait to Buy or Install Now?

    While many companies are working to improve the efficiency of solar panels, the current technology for solar panels is well established—in fact, we’ve been using the same solar technology, more or less, since the 1960s. The potential efficiency gains of future panels are small compared to the panels ready for installation today. The efficiency gains, when measured in total dollars saved on your energy bills, are minuscule.

  • Do Solar Panels Require a Tracking System to Follow the Angle of the Sun?

    When panels are installed, they are positioned to maximize sun exposure, meaning tracking systems are not required. Some newer solar arrays do integrate tracking systems to change the panels’ positioning throughout the day, but the additional expense and maintenance may not be worth the limited efficiency gains.

  • Do Solar Panels Work in Snowy or Cloudy Conditions?

    Solar panels can still work efficiently in these conditions. In snowy climates like ours, most solar panels are installed at an angle so that the snow will slide off the panel once it accumulates. Rain can help clear debris from your panels, actually helping them to be more efficient.

  • What Should I Do if I’m Concerned About the Look of Solar on My Roof?

    Ultimately, the aesthetic appeal of solar panels on a residential roof is subjective. However, with the growing popularity of solar power, professionals can install solar panels in positions and locations to minimize the visual impact. Depending on your yard area, panels can even be mounted on the ground. Take a look at some of our Solar Installations.

  • Do Solar Panels Require Maintenance?

    Solar arrays are built to be durable and require minimal maintenance. System performance is tracked by our monitoring systems so that you will know immediately if any piece of the system is underperforming and we can quickly fix the problem. All Solar by CIR systems come with a 25-year warranty on all components, and we offer maintenance services performed by our own skilled teams. Learn more about our Solar Panel Maintenance Services.

  • Do Solar Panel Systems Require Batteries?

    The majority of home solar power systems do not store energy in batteries. They’re connected to the power grid via net metering, and homeowners are credited with the energy that their solar panels generate and add to the electrical grid. Though it is possible to add a battery to your solar installation, doing so will increase the cost of materials, installation, and maintenance.

Learn More About Solar Panels in Western New York

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