One of the most important aspects of living more sustainably is addressing our energy use. While there’s only so much we can do about reducing our consumption, we can instead consider the source. And this is where renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, come in.
Did you know you can put solar panels on a balcony? Whether this is new information or not, you’ll find everything you need to know about balcony solar panels below.
We’ll go over what to know about balcony solar panels, the pros and cons of balcony solar panels, the costs, and how to get one.
Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s start by understanding what a solar panel is.
In short, a solar panel captures sunlight and converts it into electricity using photovoltaic cells. Depending on how the panels are wired up, this energy is either stored in a battery or converted from DC to AC and fed back into the power grid.
If your solar panels capture enough sunlight and are connected directly to your home’s energy supply, they can essentially feed electricity back into the grid. Depending on your local regulations, this could lead to a rebate on your energy bills.
There are 2 overall types of balcony solar panels:
1. Full-size panels. These are the same as any other solar panels, except they’re fitted on a balcony rather than a rooftop. Normal solar panels are rated for up to 400W.
2. Mini solar panels. These are mini units (such as this 100W trickle charger panel or this from EcoFlow) that come with stands so they can be set up on any flat surface. Due to their size and technology, the rated wattage is much lower – the EcoFlow, for example, is 110W.
The average 400W solar panel measures around 79” x 39” and can weigh up to 50lbs. Unless you have a massive balcony, this could prove impractical.
Mini solar panel systems are much smaller and lighter, but are often little more than glorified battery chargers. However, they’re easier to set up, take up less room, and can still help you reduce your mains power usage.
Annoyingly, the capacity of a solar panel isn’t its direct expected output. The ratings given are based on peak sun – the best conditions for producing that output. This is combined with the panel’s efficiency to come up with the wattage rating.
For example, if you have a 2kW solar panel system, you could expect it to produce up to 2,800 kWh a year. Market Watch has a helpful table and atlas to help you understand your potential output for solar panels.
You can install solar panels on a balcony, although you might need HOA permission depending on how big they are, where they’ll be located, etc. Other than that, there are a few considerations:
Solar panels are quite heavy for their size. As mentioned, a 400W solar panel can weigh up to 50lbs., and you’d want several to get a decent amount of energy.
However, you’ll be limited by the size and weight capacity of your balcony. Typically, roof-mounted solar panels require reinforcement, so something similar could be possible.
Full-size solar panels are fairly durable and can withstand pretty much any weather condition. Portable solar panels are less durable, but you could take them down when the weather isn’t great.
The expected lifespan of a solar panel is 25 years. After this point, their efficiency can drop and the technology becomes outdated. However, you can continue using them until they stop working.
Solar panels need cleaning regularly to keep them efficient. That’s pretty much all you need to do if you’ve invested in a reliable setup.
Solar panels should be installed at a south-facing aspect for peak efficiency. East- and west-facing panels have an average efficiency reduction of 15%. North-facing panels aren’t even worth considering.
Although you could install solar panels on a covered balcony, it wouldn’t really be worth it. They’d still capture energy, as they do when it’s cloudy, but you could expect a massive reduction in efficiency. Ideally, you’ll want a south-facing open balcony.
Now we get to the important part: cost. The price of a solar array varies wildly. According to Forbes, an average solar panel setup costs around $16,000, but this can be higher or lower depending on the tech and federal rebates.
If you’re setting up balcony solar panels, the cost will be less because you won’t have as many. However, you’ll need to balance the number of panels against their cost and the amount of energy they can produce. Fewer panels and less energy will make the financial payback period longer.
It’s probably obvious what this term means. For clarity, the financial payback period is how long it’ll take you to recoup the cost of the panels. Say a balcony solar panel system had 360W of capacity (creating 540kWh of energy) and cost $2,000.
Using average grid prices, it’ll take about 25 years to recover your cost, by which point you might need to install a new system! However, in sunnier and more efficient years, the period can be as little as 12 years.
You can probably pick up on the benefits and drawbacks of balcony solar panels already, but let’s recap:
Having solar panels on your balcony helps with:
- Reducing your reliance on fossil fuels
- Cutting down your energy bill
- Feeding power back into the grid
- Possibly improving your property’s value (depending on the buyer)
However, there are some drawbacks:
- Balconies aren’t the most efficient spaces for full-size panel arrays
- Mini systems only generate enough power to recharge batteries
- The payback period is pretty long, even for full-efficiency systems
- They take up a lot of room and are heavy, meaning you’ll likely need structural improvements
So, are balcony solar panels worth it? The answer ultimately depends on your intentions. For a full-size array that powers your home, probably not. The payback potential isn’t worth it for the size and setup cost.
But for a battery-charging array (even a small one like this one), it’s absolutely worth the cost.
Of course, if you’re committed to investigating full-size solar panels for your balcony, consider speaking to local solar engineers to get specific advice on your balcony’s potential. They can tell you whether it’s worth the cost.