Solar panels are one of the basic components of any photovoltaic system. At Solarhome.org we carry a variety of panels from top manufacturers such as GE, Evergreen, Sharp, and Schott. But panels themselves are only a part of what it takes to run a PV system. In order to succeed, you will need several other components as well as a realistic assessment of your energy goals and current usage.
Your current usage is probably the single most important fact to bring into the discussion of obtaining solar power. Knowing what you use will allow you to accurately assess how many solar panels it would take to meet part or all of that usage. Looking at your current usage also gives you a great idea of what steps you can take to reduce your power consumption.
In addition to solar panels, a good PV system includes an inverter, batter storage/backup, and possibly a grid tie-in. An inverter is necessary because your panels produce direct current, while your home uses alternating current. It is important to remember that the conversion from DC to AC does take a voltage hit, so you will need to budget extra power to ensure that enough is left after the transfer to meet your needs.
Battery backup allows you to run off of solar power even when the sun is down. Studies have shown that peak power usage lasts from about 6pm to midnight in most areas. This is when everyone gets home, turns on the TV, the oven, lights, what have you. For most of the year, half of the 6-12 timeframe is too dark to produce meaningful power. To get around this, solar systems can store excess power they produce in batteries and then use that power once it is needed.