After focusing on the concept of solar energy – on how it’s going to be the way of the future, and especially on why you should consider it as an alternative or main source of energy for your home or business, we’ve decided to take things a little deeper from this week on. We’re going to start deconstructing the solar power system, looking at the components individually, and understanding their importance. For today, we’re going to focus on the what – what is, for instance, a solar panel?
What Are Solar Panels?
Simply put, a solar panel is a device that captures the energy contained in sunlight and converts it into electricity. Generally flat and rectangular, they are made up of tiny solar cells (photovoltaics), which are individual units in panels that do the work of trapping sunlight and converting it into electricity. The rest of the solar system, which also contains solar batteries, does the work of actually storing the energy for later use. And the beauty of a solar panel is that the more light it gets, the more energy it makes.
Solar panels are one of the two core components of a solar power system (the other being the solar battery). Solar cells are linked together to form “modules” in panels, and panels are connected to form an “array.” Altogether, these form a powerful network of solar energy generation.
Naturally, the more panels you’ve got installed and the better their quality, the more electricity you’ll have stored for a rainy day (pun intended, of course).
What Are They Made of?
Solar panels come in myriad shapes and sizes and can be modified to suit any use – whether it’s for powering homes, businesses, cars or even watches. And while they are versatile and can be adapted for many applications, the materials that make up cells are the tried and tested few, at least until new developments in solar panel technology allow for greater construction choices.
At the Green Power Company, our focus is on providing electricity solutions through solar power and allowing you a cheaper, greener and cleaner source of energy. Our solar panels for electricity generation, like almost on the market right now, are made up of silicon, which is one of the most commonly occurring elements in modern technology (computer chips, solar panels and all).
Within a solar panel, it’s the individual cells that are made of silicon, and are generally of three types:
Single-crystal cells: are long, thin and hexagonal. While the most expensive to make, they are also the most efficient in design;
Polycrystalline cells: are cut into squares, which means they are great for packing and stacking into solar panels. They’re cheaper, but also not as efficient as single-crystal cells.
Amorphous Silicon cells: For these cells, the liquid silicon is sprayed onto the module which then links it all together. While the cheapest method, it’s also the least efficient.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
In spite of the differences in design, the fundamental way in which all of these solar panels work is essentially the same, since they all have the same aim – to harness sunlight and churn out electricity chemically.
Each solar cell has two distinct layers of semiconductors— the p-type, which is positively charged, and the n-type, which is negatively charged. Then there’s the little space in between them, called the “p-n” junction. As this excellent article tells us, when sunlight hits the surface of a cell, electrons are freed and travel through the p-n junction to an external circuit, which then carries them away to the solar battery to be stored as electricity.
If you prefer moving pictures, this great interactive presentation from MIT Technology Review explains how solar panels work, rather well.
Telling the Good From the Bad and the Ugly
Naturally, a good solar panel is efficient, long-lasting and produces the most energy possible during daylight hours, so that it can be stored for use when the sun doesn’t shine.
Apart from the materials used to construct them, what makes a good solar panel great?
One of the biggest factors is how long they will last, of course. The pay-off time for the entire solar panel system will vary depending on the exact specifications, how and where the system is installed (home or business), how much sunlight the area you live in gets, and whether the system is on-grid, off-grid or hybrid and of course, on the weather. The average age of solar panels however, is about 25 years. With good maintenance and the proper care, they can last longer.
While the major players in the solar panel business like their manufacturers and investors are the ones paying research laboratories to test the quality and efficiency of solar , a buyer should know what she or he is getting into as well.
The Australian Government has recently launched the Desert Knowledge Australia Solar Centre Initiative, which is currently testing different solar panels in Alice Springs. Their website is a ton of fun to play around with, and most of all, is an invaluable source of information to understand which solar panel is right for you.
If you prefer graphs, the website also lets you compress the data the Initiative has collected and compare it with different types of solar panels being tested, against the day’s average, and in varying weather conditions.
It’s probably apparent that solar panel technology is complex, and the market for it is competitive. While the biggest solar panel makers – i.e. the top 20% — have 70% of the market share, it’s not because they are necessarily making the best quality solar panels.
Market studies that test and report the quality of solar panels vary greatly, meaning that there is no one set standard to rank solar panel manufacturers against. There are however, some manufacturers that rank consistently in the top 10 in the world. The best solar panel manufacturing companies have managed to keep their status quo intact, by ensuring they do not compromise quality in a market that is fast becoming flooded with competitors who don’t always pay attention to the details, making for inferior, defective and inefficient panels. This of course creates a solar panel system that does not live up to its standards, leaving behind unhappy consumers and giving solar energy a bad rap.
To avoid disappointments, we at the Green Power Company understand that a truly cost-efficient solar power system does not compromise on quality. We use only highly ranked manufacturers like Kyocera, Sun-Earth and Q-cells, all of which are known for their superior craftsmanship and high, long-term performance. Here’s a brief rundown on the three kinds:
- Kyocera: One of the “golden oldies” in the solar power industry, these panels are sturdy, finely made and produce the highest average output of any crystalline module out there.
We’ve used Kyocera panels in many different types of installations. Give us a ring for more information on installing these to fit your solar needs.
Q-cells: Our panels of choice for installations that need high performance matched only by an equally high yield are from Q-cells. These mono-crystalline beauties are some of the most powerful solar modules in the world, and can pack a real punch, standing up to your most demanding energy generation needs.
Want to meet the Q-cells? Contact us for more details.
- Sun-Earth: We’ve known these panels for a long time now, and we can vouch for their brilliant design and construction. Built from pure raw silicon and wafer wire saw, they are gems of efficiency. The anti-reflection coating on them is a big, sun-sized plus.
Where to Start
This primer on solar panels has been just that – an introduction to understanding the workings of solar power systems. At the Green Power Company, we take pride in working to educate and inform our clients on their products of choice, so that they understand the full potential of the system they have invested in.
In the next discussion of solar panels, we’ll take a look at the exciting emerging technologies and their potential in the solar power industry.
Our mandate at the Green Power Company is to provide you with solar power generation equipment that is high performing, consistent, long-lasting and cost-efficient. By informing you about the technology behind solar power systems, we hope to start a dialogue about acquiring and installing equipment that’s perfectly in tune to your specific needs.