What are solar panels?

What are solar panels

Solar panels have become increasingly popular among people looking for renewable sources of electricity.

Domestic systems have made their ways on the sunny sides of the roofs, while more and more solar panel farms are being built to catch up with people’s demand for earth-friendly electricity. Apart from the general statement that “solar panels produce electricity from sun rays”, there are many more things to be mentioned when it comes to the subject. The way, in which they function, the materials from which they are made of and the advantages of such an alternative source of electricity (benefits of solar energy) are only few of the subjects which are worth tackling when it comes to solar panels. These are all aspects of the broader question “what are solar panels” which need to be known before venturing to install such a system.

What are solar panels made of?

When exposed onto roof surfaces, the solar panels look like sheets of glass looking towards the sun. However, their components are more complex than a simple glass panel. The core of the solar panels is made up of pure silicon, the substance responsible for the photon transformation into electrons. Two types of silicon can be used for producing this type of panels: amorphous and crystalline. A clear preference is given to the latter one for its properties. The silicon cells along with the wiring and protection materials are encapsulated into the glass case which attracts the solar rays and direct it accordingly. Special glass needs to be used, so as to maximize the sun ray transfer and at the same time preventing structure overheating.

Non-silicon panels are also available. The photovoltaic cells are mostly made of cadmium telluride, while the case and semiconductors are similar to the silicon panels. However, researches are made so that carbon panels can replace the silicon and cadmium telluride panels. Carbon is much more stable, so will ensure better performances for the panels, while also making the panels easier to recycle. Furthermore, the sources of carbon are unlimited; therefore it is a much more reliable source for future solar panel construction.

Apart from the photovoltaic cells, semiconductors and glass case, producers choose now to install electronics into the solar panels to counteract the shading effects on the panels. Using maximum power point trackers and power optimizers for each one of the panels in the system will keep the individual photovoltaic cells functioning even when some of the cells in a panel are in shade.

What are solar panels’ principles of functioning?

The solar panels capture the sun light through the silicone system and transform it into electrical power (direct current or DC). This process is made at an atomic level and it is known as the photovoltaic effect, from where the alternate name for the solar panels, photovoltaic panels. The process is simple: the silicon wafers absorb the photons (from the sun) and releases electrons. Each silicon wafer is doped to create a unidirectional movement of the electrons, which will be eventually transported, through the wiring system to the invertor. The invertor receives the DC and transforms it into ready to use power (alternative current or AC) for your home. From the invertor, the AC is transported to your house wiring towards the electrical appliances.

A photovoltaic panel does not produce enough electricity to support the needs of one house; therefore a group of panels, also known as solar panel system, is necessary to power up a house/building. The actual size of the system is determined by the amount of power need of the house/building and will be calculating dividing the power consumed each year to the power produced by one solar panel. Higher seasonal power consumption, new electrical devices or more people planning to move in the house are factors which must be taken into consideration when evaluating the number of photovoltaic panels needed.

What are solar panels’ advantages?

Solar panel systems present a variety of benefits for domestic users. Probably the most important one is a considerable reduction in the electricity bill. Whether connected to a local grid or independently installed, the solar panel system produces enough electricity to keep a house running on a daily basis (if its size is properly calculated). Batteries can ensure electricity storage for periods without sun, while the connection to the local network provides extra money for the energy which is produced but not used inside the house.
Another major advantage, apart from the economical aspect, is the environmental factor. The solar panels produce electricity without polluting the air, water or ground. Furthermore, great efforts are made to produce the solar panels with minimum damage for the environment. Major companies have started to recycle non-functional to minimize the impact panel production has on the earth.

Other solar panel installation benefits include access to electricity in remote areas where an electricity network in not available, no special maintenance ritual required and a relative protection of the roof in the places solar panels are installed. The only drawback associated with the solar panels is their initial cost, which can be relatively high for an average family.

What are Solar Panels Farms?

Solar panel farms, solar parks or photovoltaic power stations are large areas onto which photovoltaic panels and inverters are placed in order to generate electricity. The electricity produced in this type of power stations is then transmitted to the population or industrial consumers by means of an electricity transmission grid, just like in the case of traditionally produced electricity.

The largest solar parks are in Germany – Waldpolenz Solar Park (producing52 MW per year) and in California, USA – Topaz Solar Farm (estimated to produce 550 MW per year after its completion in 2015). With the increased awareness on earth problems and the continuous decrease of their costs, solar system installations are taken into consideration by more and more households. Major states in the world, such as Germany, United Kingdom and USA (to name a few) have already started campaigns for encouraging domestic solar panel installation and the trend is rapidly catching up on more countries. The future looks bright for this type of alternative electricity.