Solar Panels: How Do They Function?

Solar energy is one of the most popular renewable energy sources. That’s for the simple reason that the sun will always shine upon us, obviously, except for nighttime and winter months. So, it’s understandable why solar panels have become a common sight on the rooftops of both residential and commercial properties worldwide. 

Installing solar panels on your property is an effective method to reduce the often-exorbitant monthly electricity bills. It’s also a proactive way to contribute to sustainable development goals (SDGs). 

Understanding how solar panels function is one way to make the most of them. Fortunately, you can get the hang of these installations without necessarily stepping into a mechanical or electrical engineering class. 

Here’s a comprehensive guide to how solar panels operate.

Buying and Installing Solar Panels

There are two primary things to note even before understanding how solar panels work – how to purchase and install this equipment. 

Size and efficiency are perhaps the most significant considerations while shopping for solar panels. And contrary to popular misconception, a more extensive panel size doesn’t always translate to better performance. 

The efficiency of solar panels is typically calculated by dividing the power rating by the total panel area. So, simply having a larger panel doesn’t mean it will generate more electrical energy. The rule is to insist on larger panels with a higher power rating. 

Durability and warranty are other vital aspects to look for in solar panels. The most durable solar panels feature multiple layers of silicone or rock encased in tempered glass. The tempered glass is chemically or thermally produced, making it six times more potent than regular plate glass. 

Besides the sturdy construction in a city like Melbourne, a solar panel should also come with a reasonably extended warranty (usually 10 to 25 years) to be considered a worthy purchase. 

When purchasing a solar panel, certain factors should be considered while installing this equipment. 

  • First, you should establish the roof type, direction, and elevation. The last two aspects determine the panels’ expected sunlight exposure. 
  • Another solar installation best practice is to figure out the system’s expected duration. The term “duration” here denotes the period the solar panel may last before needing replacement and the time you intend to live or use the property before moving. 
  • And needless to say, having your solar panels installed by a professional technician is essential. This reduces risks of damages or wiring mistakes common with do-it-yourself (DIY) solar installations.
Solar Panels, Placement, Green Energy

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How Do Solar Panels Work?

1. Trapping energy from the sun

Solar panels harness the sun’s energy to generate electricity, which means that these installations require sunshine to function optimally. 

The longer the duration and intensity of sunshine, the higher the electrical energy generated.

2. Conversion of the sun’s energy to DC electricity

The solar cells that comprise each solar panel are the components that generate electricity through a phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect. 

3. More about the Photovoltaic Effect

The photovoltaic effect is a complex mechanism whereby the sunlight particles (also known as photons) energize and set in motion the electrons. The highly charged electrons then flow freely from atoms. This free flow of electrons constitutes electricity, and the role of solar cells is to capture this flow and convert it into usable electric current. 

Much of the electricity conversion is made possible by the joint efforts of the metal plates and wiring system within a solar panel’s construction. 

The photovoltaic effect was first discovered by Edmond Becquerel in 1839. According to Becquerel and many other electrical engineers who took a keen interest in the photovoltaic effect, the phenomenon requires two primary things: sunlight and a semiconductor. In the case of solar panels, there’s a combination of sunlight and silicon, although some panels may be made from other semiconductors like copper indium gallium diselenide and cadmium-telluride. 

It’s also worth noting that solar panels use two silicon layers in every cell. Each layer is specially doped to create an electric field at their intersections. The generated electric field boosts the flow of electrons from the solar cells out of the cell intersections and into the wiring system. 

Various elements are used as doping agents. The most commonly used pair is phosphorus and boron as positive and negative doping agents.

Solar System, Roof, Power Generation

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4. Conversion of electric current from DC to AC

Once the solar cells have generated electricity, the current is pushed out of the electric field and transferred to the connecting wires. This is the point where the electricity changes from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). 

Nearly all solar panel installations have an inverter. It’s the converter that does the heavy lifting as far as converting DC to AC. 

In some cases, solar panel inverters come equipped with transformers for regulating the voltage of DC and AC currents. And for grid-tied solar energy systems, any excess electricity is channeled to the electric grid and stored for future use.

Solar Panels, Heating, Renewable Energy

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Final Word

Solar panels are an innovative technology that has helped many homeowners and businesses keep their electricity bills down. As previously stated, the efficiency of a solar panel has much to do with the equipment’s power rating and size. It’s also essential to purchase a solar panel from a renowned manufacturer and install it with a professional to minimize risks of damage and malfunctions.

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