Solar energy is a renewable energy source that may seem like an innovation but was actually invented and utilized around 100 years ago. People during the early days would use it to make steam for their machinery but things changed when the photovoltaic effect was discovered by a scientist named Edmond Becquerel. Later in 1893, the first solar cell was created, and this was the beginning of what we now call solar panels.
People are now becoming aware of what’s going on with the environment. That is also one of the reasons why more people engage in the use of solar panels in their houses. Some companies utilize them, which makes them relevant to the present world.
This article will explore how solar panels work, their possible applications, and how they are used. If you are eager to transition to renewable energy or simply expand your knowledge about solar panels, then you're on the right path.
What are Solar Panels?
Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, harvest sunlight and convert it into electricity. They are made up of multiple independent units called solar cells that work together to produce the electricity produced by the sun. Its appearance may look simple and stylish on your roof but with this, you can produce electricity just by relying on the sun. The sunlight has particles called photons which the solar cells absorb and then process into usable electrical energy.
Without solar panels, the process of converting energy from the sun would not be possible. They are a vital component of a solar system and are crucial for the operation of solar cells and other components, as these cannot function independently without their presence. Solar panels produce electricity without harmful effects, unlike other fuels or gases that negatively affect the environment. Thus, making it a suitable option for promoting a green environment.
How big is a solar panel?
Solar panels would normally come in a rectangular or square shape. For residential use, the common dimensions of these are 65 inches by 39 inches. They usually come in dark colors like black or blue because of silicon compositions. Some solar panels come with metal frames that ensure their durability and stronger structure. However, there are also frameless solar panels which are less expensive and perform better compared to the framed ones. The noticeable gridlines in these panels are part of the conductive network that collects the electricity produced by solar cells.
The Photovoltaic Effect
The overall process of transforming energy from the sun to the solar panels is called photovoltaic effect. Solar panels have individual cells consisting of silicon. When the photons strike the solar cells, they will be absorbed by the silicon material and then, the silicon layer will start processing it. The sunlight received and processed by the solar cells will trigger the electrons, making them excited and flow through the conductive metal layers. This flow of electrons is considered electricity. This electricity can now power various devices and applications.
This photovoltaic effect can be used in both small and large applications, and solar panels that are based on this photovoltaic effect have considerable lifespans compared to other technologies.
Solar Thermal Energy
Other than the photovoltaic effect, a solar thermal energy system is another way of collecting energy from the sun and then converting it into electricity. Instead of solar panels, this method uses solar towers. Solar towers do the same job as the solar panels but have arrays of mirrors called heliostats that are placed at the top. It will concentrate the sunlight on the receiver producing an extremely hot temperature. In this system, concentrated sunlight heats the fluid (receiver) that produces steam. This steam is now transported to a conventional turbine to produce electricity. This technology is one of the main components of solar power plants.
Solar Panels and Solar Towers
Solar Panels and Solar Towers are two technologies that are widely used in the market. Solar Panels are used for small applications such as residential, businesses, and even small devices like calculators. The Solar towers are for large-scale electricity demands like industries and power plants. These two can produce and provide clean and renewable energy.
Factors Affecting Solar Panel Efficiency
The performance of solar panels may not always be at its best. Some factors affect its function and here are some:
- The intensity of sunlight is an important factor in the efficiency of solar panels. Receiving less sunlight will make the solar panels less efficient as well. When the sun is at its peak, there is an increased power that solar panels can produce.
- The angle and orientation of your solar panels also play an important role. For solar panels to receive a high amount of energy from the sun, its position must also be considered. It must be tilted to ensure that the sunlight hits the panels effectively. A good number would be a 35-to-45-degree tilt angle to maximize solar production.
- Additional to the angle and orientation, the placement of solar panels is also to consider. It should not be placed in areas where there are trees, roofs, or something that can block the sunlight that goes to the panels. Putting it in a place with shade could decrease its efficiency. Generally, in the US, it is placed in the south portion of your roof.
- Every solar panel comes with a manufacturer’s datasheet. You may use that to identify the temperature coefficient of your solar panel – it will tell you how your solar panel will work depending on the temperature. If it's a really hot day, your solar panel might produce slightly less electricity than it would on a cooler day because of this temperature effect.
- The efficiency of solar panels can also depend on the quality of its solar cells. For the user to determine it, you may check the manufacturer’s rating because it tells you how the panels will run based on its tests.
Solar Panels in Everyday Life (common uses)
Solar panels for residential use have become increasingly popular as homeowners want to reduce their energy costs and gain energy independence. For this type of application, solar panels are installed on the roof because that is the best surface area that can catch sunlight. How Many Solar Panels to Power a House? The estimated number of solar panels that a typical house requires is around 17 to 20. However, this estimated quantity will still depend on your location, energy need, and budget. When considering residential solar panels, it is recommended to consult with an expert.
The utilization of renewable energy isn’t confined to household use, it has also become prominent commercially – big and small businesses. However, commercial solar panels are not always installed on roofs just like for home use. Since it requires large solar arrays, it also requires large spaces which is why they also make use of ground-mounted solar panels. Some also use the power tower – a giant magnifying glass-like tower that reflects sunlight to harness the energy that comes from it.
Commercial use of solar panels has lower energy demands and their applications are simpler. Unlike industrial use, that requires a more extensive amount of energy. It is an important alternative power solution for several industries such as the food industry, textile industry, agriculture, and chemical industry. Industries make use of renewable energy to power machinery – saving costs and reducing the reliance on the normal grid. In that way, power outages would not be an inconvenience to them.
Likewise, portable solar panels are now emerging in the market. It is perfect for outdoor activities even in remote locations, but it can also be used at home as an emergency backup when an outage comes unannounced. Unlike solar panels that were previously mentioned, this type of application does not require complicated installations and can even be placed wherever you like if it can harvest sunlight. It does the same job but is more convenient and simpler as they may also come in special briefcases where you can carry them around as you like.
How are Solar Panels Made?
To better understand how solar panels work, it is important to also explore what are its key components. Let’s look at the parts of the solar panel and their roles in the solar panel system.
The first essential component that the solar panel consists of is the photovoltaic cell also known as the solar cell. This looks like a sandwich that absorbs the sunlight and then converts it to electricity. This is a tiny piece of technology that serves as the gateway of sunlight to our devices that need to be supplied with electricity. Since a solar panel consists of multiple photovoltaic cells connected to form a panel, solar panels can also be called a Photovoltaic System (PV System).
Inside the solar cells, components called silicon layers can be found. This is a very crucial part of the solar cells. It has two types called monocrystalline and polycrystalline. This is like the heart of the solar system, what it does is to initiate the conversion of sunlight into electricity.
Other components are the conductive metal layers which are made of copper, silver, zinc, aluminum, and steel. These are like wires inside the solar panels that help the electricity flow. When the sunlight hits the solar panel, it is processed in the silicon layers then the conductive metal layers act like roadways, allowing the electricity to flow through the devices.
The topmost part of the solar panel is the tempered solar panel glass or protective coverings. It protects the solar panels and other components from damage caused by environmental factors including weather and debris. It simply serves as the protective layer and does not hinder the absorption of sunlight for the solar panel to function. Since the solar panel itself consists of sensitive parts, it is important to have protection such as this one.
It is important to understand that each component in a solar panel plays an important role. They make collaborative efforts to ensure the efficiency of the solar panels creating sustainable clean energy.
Is it Worth Investing in a PV System?
While solar panels offer significant environmental benefits, they also come with their advantages and disadvantages – which are important to consider before investing.
At the top of the list of benefits that solar panels offer is the fact that they use the energy that comes from the sun – which is an endless source. With the right use of technology and care, solar panels can provide electricity for a very long time. This renewable feature means, we won’t run out of power as long as the sun continues to shine.
In a way, adopting this technology can also lead to a reduction in electricity costs. You may have to pay for the installation and maintenance but over a long period, it has the potential to save you a significant amount of money on paying electricity bills. Especially, since electricity bills have been increasing and seem to have no end. The higher the price of electricity is, the faster you’ll have a return on investment with your solar panels.
Solar panels have a wide diversity of applications. Through the heat that comes from the sun, you can collect energy to produce electricity. Moreover, for places that have limited access to clean water, solar thermal can be helpful. This technology did not just provide you electricity supply but also distilled water.
It is also important to note the disadvantages that come with it. One primary concern is the initial investment necessary for purchasing, installing, and maintaining a solar system. However, reassuringly, ongoing research, development, and innovations suggest that prices may decrease in the future.
Since it comes from the sun, which is a natural resource, it is weather-dependent. It may still be able to harness energy during rainy or cloudy days but during bad days, it could be less effective. Moreover, during nighttime, solar panels cannot collect energy at all.
Understanding how solar panels work opens a world of possibilities. This clean and renewable energy source is not only environmentally friendly but also cost-effective in the long run and by switching to solar technology, you can harness the power of the sun to meet your needs.
A way of giving back to the environment for everything it provides is by taking care of it. Imagine a world where the majority of the population has invested in renewable energy. Solar panels may require maintenance but with proper care, they can last for decades, making them a wise choice of investment. It even reduces air pollution and climate change because it does not produce gas emissions or air pollutants. So why not consider adopting a solar system? This small action could be a contribution to shaping a more sustainable environment for yourself and for the generations to come.