Solar panels or Photovoltaic panels have become a very popular way to produce home electricity, whether you are grid connected or want to live off the grid.
They produce electricity in a very simple way, by converting energy from the sun into DC electrical current. The fine details of how this happens will be explained later.
Solar Panels produce power in direct relation to the amount of sunlight falling on them. They should therefore be placed in a very sunny location with not even any partial shade if possible.
Why are they a great choice?
* there are no moving parts
* solar panels come in many sizes
* easy to install
* easy to maintain
This is a very good choice as there are no moving parts making them the very simplest form of renewable energy. Our own installation has been in place for over 16 years now, with only very minor adjustments and regular maintenance (cleaning). We have even seen installations that have been in place for over 30 years. They are very long lasting.
How does the sun produce electricity?
Simply put, the cells inside of solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity. PV (or photovoltaic) cells are the building blocks of the panels. They are usually about 6 inches square or a similar size rectangle. They are normally fabricated using special semiconductor materials that allow electrons, which are energized when the material is exposed to sunlight, to be freed from their atoms. They are shook loose and are free to travel.
Once freed, these electrons can then move through the material and carry an electric current. The current is DC (direct current) and only flows in one direction (like a battery),
Right at the top layer (under a protective coating) are small thin pieces of semiconductor material called cells. These cells, usually a series of cells aligned in rows, make up the panel. The cells that make up the panel are made of silicon in most cases, and are treated with phosphorous or boron. They are as fragile as potato chips if not supported, but once construction is complete they are very sturdy.
As light strikes the cells it is captured by the semiconductor material. This is known as the photovoltaic effect.
Types of Solar Panels
The most obviously recognized one are monocrystalline panels. For many years monocrystalline solar modules have been the workhorses of the solar market. Those iridescent blue faced panels you have been seeing on rooftops are probably of this type of panels.
They have distinct rounded individual solar cells visible from all angles stacked in very uniform rows. We kind of like these ones as they are really tidy looking when installed, much like shingles.
This type is produced from a single silicon crystal. Manufacturing costs are very high making them the most expensive solar modules on the market.
They are, however the most efficient type of solar panel (not considering new advances that are just hitting the market now) making them the correct choice when space is at a premium.
Monocrystalline cells have a life expectancy of over 25 years, probably over 50 years. The only real problem with this type of cell is it’s fragile nature making it a requirement that it be mounted in a very rigid frame. This is not really a problem as great mounting equipment exists that can really do the job right.
Polycrystalline modules are manufactured from a block of multi-crystalline silicon, not the solid material used in making the monocrystalline models. They are usually square and have a varied, almost mosaic-like appearance. It is like they are painted after with light streaks of blue shades runnng through them.
These solar panels are only slightly less efficient than monocrystalline modules and they are cheaper to manufacture and thus are less expensive to install.
You can expect the same great lifespan as monocrystalline cells too, upwards of 50 years, this is a real lifetime investment.
Recently there has been a new product enter the marketplace, and it is hoped that it will provide some much needed answers for solar power users. Amorphous silicon PV or thin film technology could make rigid solar panels obsolete if some better research is done in the coming years.
Thin film solar panels are produced by applying silicon material on glass or stainless steel, or more commonly between two pieces of flexible laminate material, many choices exist.
Solid thin film panels are in use but flexible laminated thin film panels are more popular. The flexible panels can be applied to any surface and sometimes used as roofing material. Some of this material is almost like paint, some day even your house paint or siding may contain this material making your entire home an electrical generator.
Most customers like the almost seamless blending of solar panels right into their roof top. It is very nice. Saving you the cost of regular shingles or steel roofing, thin film solar panels are a great choice.
The only real problem is that these panels are not nearly as efficient at converting light to electricity when compared to mono or polycrystalline solar panels- not nearly by half. That means that you would need twice the space to accommodate their installation.
From a manufacturing standpoint they do absorb light more efficiently though, allowing for a thinner design and less material being used in their manufacture, they simply do not produce as much electricity per square foot.
The real benefit, because less material is needed, is in the simplified manufacturing process resulting in lowered costs to build and sell them at. The lower price has pushed thin film panels to the lead in price per watt of output.
You may need more of them, but it costs less for the homeowner for every watt of power production. They are flexible, light and rarely break during shipping, something that used to happen. Now new shipping methods have them all arriving safely. Add in the great price and this makes thin film panels a great choice where space is not a consideration.
They jury is still out on the lifespan of these panels though. Some say they will last just as long as monocrystalline panels, others point to their decreased efficiencies only a couple of years after purchase. We will have to wait and see.
As mentioned earlier, with increased research this could be the answer. We have a couple smaller panels and they seem to work fine, but we like our monocrystalline solar panels and are going to stick with them. Your choice. We have tried them and like all aspects, including the fact that they are still very efficient even 10 years later.
There are many new forms of solar panels out there, from spheral solar to liquid paint. All very revolutionary, but all of them need some time to be properly tested before we would recommend them.
For that reason we leave you with these three choices and will let you make up your own mind.
The very last point to make is that solar panels are here to stay and are a great choice for the homeowner wanting to save money on their electric bills.