How do Solar Panels work? (a quick guide)

How do Solar Panels work? (a quick guide)

Are you considering installing roof top solar after looking around your neighbourhood and noticing how popular they have become?  The truth is that a while back, it was a niche investment, but now solar panels are much more widespread and more common. Many companies are offering products related to solar energy by adding attractive discounts and incentives. Knowing how solar panels actually work, will aid in determining whether it will be an appropriate investment for you.

The science of panels
If you tear apart a solar panel, you will discover that it is nothing more than a large sheet of glass on a metal frame, with a circuit of cables that leads to the electrical panel of your home.
What you don’t see is that each panel is made up of a layer of silicon cells, and those of us who were paying attention in chemistry class will remember that silicon is a conductive element (just joking, I never paid attention in class). When sunlight hits the panel mounted on your rooftop, the silicon cells react by generating a flow of electrons.

This flow of energy is captured by a network of cables, where thanks to the inverters, the energy is converted from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) with the entire process of energy conversion  known as the photovoltaic effect.

The solar panels are connected to the general network and is key to keeping track of energy production (I’ll explain this later). Simply put, the more energy your solar panels produce, the more solar power your home will use, and the less it will require from the grid.

The different types of panels
There are three different types of solar panel designs and as with any purchase of this kind, the choice of panel design can be tricky and will depend on the roof design and the weather where you live.

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline
Monocrystalline panels are made up of multiple rows and columns of silicon wafers that are placed inside the glass housing of a single solar panel. When designing a single engineered panel, companies cut the piece of silicon from a single crystalline; Monopanels are generally the most powerful and energy-efficient solution for a home, and this is because the silicon itself is essentially “uncut”. Monopanels are usually black, this is due to the way radiation interacts with silicon cells.

The main difference with polycrystalline panels is that polyurethane cells are manufactured by  melting multiple silicon crystal fragments in a single mould. The rows and columns of silicon are then cut from this assembled mould and placed inside the glass shell.

Polyethylene panels are often blue and are usually a middle ground in terms of cost and efficiency.

Thin film
Finally, we have panels composed of a thin film and. these are the cheapest panels to install but  the most inexpensive to manufacture. Aesthetically they are the slimmest panel designs, and this is because actual silicon wafers are much smaller than the wafers used in mono panel and polyethylene panel designs. While thin-film panels may be the most financially attractive and aesthetically versatile option, these lower-cost panels are cheaper for a reason, as their power and output are often much lower than standard mono and poly panel options.

Thin-film panels can be black or blue, depending on what materials were used to make them. It is also important to note that, depending on the type of enclosure used by the manufacturer, thin-film panels can be the same size as mono or polipanel.

Electricity bill
In simple terms, those who spend the most on electricity will reap the most significant benefits from a solar-powered installation. A high electricity bill will depend on many factors, but increased energy demand is usually the main one.

Sometimes solar panels produce enough electricity to cover all your energy demand so that the electricity bill can work in your favour with excess, unused solar energy able to be sold back to the grid – referred to as “net metering.” This is a great advantage during the summer months when the days are longer, and there are more hours of sunshine, resulting in greater solar energy production.

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