Solar panels for pergola: Electric patio
- 10 Feb 2023
- 7 min
If you have a pergola or ever wanted to build one, why not pair it with solar panels? A solar pergola is 1) a reduction in your electric bill; 2) a unique and stylish home design choice; 3) a fun DIY project to try. In this article we’ll dive into the subject of choosing solar panels for a pergola.
Three reasons to build a solar pergola
Pergola — 1) a framework in the form of a passageway of columns that supports a trelliswork roof; used to support and train climbing plants; 2) such a framework employed to provide shade, especially over a patio.
Admittedly, a pergola is not the most obvious place for solar panels. Still, choosing it over a house roof has several advantages:
• An alternative when the roof is not an option. Sometimes the roof is not suitable for a PV installation: it may be old, shaded or not have a good spot for an array. You might also not want to risk roof warranty: in some cases adding a solar panel system to a rooftop affects your insurance policy.
• A chance to give the panels perfect angle and orientation. If you’re building a pergola from scratch, you can design it so that panels on top of it will receive maximum irradiance throughout the day.
• Easier installation, maintenance and repairs. A trelliswork roof can act as a framework for a solar panel system and it’s easier to access than a house roof.
A solar system will not harm the aesthetics of your pergola nor the climbing plants that you might want to grow. If the pergola is close to your house, a solar array on top of it can act as a standard home PV system and significantly reduce your home bill.
Designing a solar pergola: Weight over size
Pergolas come in all shapes and sizes, so the number of panels that you’ll be able to fit on top of it may vary. The limitation might not be the size of your system but its weight: a pergola by itself is not designed to withstand heavy loads. The average weight of a solar panel ranges from 35 to 70 lb. The weight per ft² can range from 2 to 3 lb.
There is a difference between building a solar pergola from scratch and putting panels on an existing one. You might have to reinforce an old pergola before adding panels to it. New construction can give you perfect positioning and angle. In the US panels should face south and the angle can be equal to your latitude or set between 30° and 45°. Note that the further your solar pergola is going to be from your house, the higher are energy losses.
Solar Installation Expert
Don’t forget to apply for a 30% Federal Solar Tax Credit. In this situation you can include the cost of the pergola in the installation cost since it's effectively serving as the racking for a ground-mount solar array.
While there are string inverters that are rated for outdoor use, consider using micro inverters in this case. These small devices are attached to individual panels from behind, converting direct current into alternating. They are more efficient and deal with shading better. Note that they’ll add weight to your system. Each micro inverter weighs about 2-3 lb.
You can hide micro inverters and the cabling into the racking of a trelliswork roof. When a solar pergola is assembled, all you need to do is contact your utility to join a net metering program. They will install a small metering device that will keep track of the energy you export to the grid.
Choosing solar panels for pergola: Aesthetics over power
People often choose bifacial solar panels for a pergola. While bifacial modules provide higher production because of their active rear side, the reason is mostly aesthetical. An array of bifacial panels resemble a glass roof. When you look up, it’s more pleasant to look at than a plastic back sheet of standard panels. Here are a few brands that you might like.
Aptos Solar is a young American brand, but the high quality and appeal of their panels is beyond any doubt. Despite a relatively smaller product line, Aptos offers a few models that are perfect for a backyard solar panel pergola. Aptos Solar engineers make connectors ultra thin so that they don’t shade solar cells and don’t spoil the looks of a panel.
Trina Solar holds 21 world records related to solar efficiency. They also don’t overlook the aesthetic side of their products. Besides, Trina Solar is a Chinese manufacturer and their panels are more affordable than those made in North America.
Q CELLS is a brand with a great reputation that brought lots of innovations to the solar industry. For example, Q.ANTUM technology made the panels perform better in low-light conditions. It has a wide selection of panels, including bifacial modules.
Three best solar panels for pergola
We picked the very best solar panels for a pergola: efficient, stylish and bifacial. When making the choice, we relied on our engineer’s 20+ years of experience, customer reviews and the specs of the models.
Aptos DNA Bifacial 370 W
Lo and behold, this Aptos 370 W solar panel combines all the key qualities of an ideal pergola solar panel. It has a shiny, obsidian-black surface without any interruptions. The module’s efficiency is above 20%, and the bifacial technology can significantly boost this figure. The panel comes with a 30-year warranty for both the product and performance.
Trina Vertex S 390 W
If you’re looking for something affordable, but are unwilling to compromise on quality or aesthetics, this bifacial Trina 390 W solar panel may be your best bet. With a power density of 18.8 watts/ft², it won’t waste the limited space on your solar pergola. Half-cut cell design makes this panel shading-resistant.
Q CELLS Q.PEAK DUO 480 W
Rated at 480 W, this Q CELLS solar panel is one of the most powerful made by the company. The panel shows an efficiency of 20.9%. The Q.PEAK DUO bifacial technology increases power output by up to 20%. Just a few of these can make a deep cut in your electricity bill. The panel is made of black monocrystalline cells encased in a thin silver frame.
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