What are Solar Panels?

Solar panels are an environmentally friendly way of producing electricity for your home.

They rely on photovoltaic (PV) cells to turn sunlight into electricity. They come in a range of sizes, though the current standard offering in the market is a 60-cell panel. Smaller panels are also available and can be used in the off-grid market or for layouts where more flexibility is required. An average home has more than enough roof area to hold solar panels to produce sufficient solar electricity to supply all of its power needs.

Solar panels generally have a 25-year manufacturers’ performance guarantee but they usually last 10 to 15 years beyond this point. In fact, in 2010 it was reported that the world`s first modern solar panel still worked, 60 years after being built.

How do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels are a collection of solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells, that are designed to turn the sun’s energy into electricity. These photovoltaic cells are a mix of pure silicon (silicon atoms bonded with silicon atoms), silicon atoms bonded with phosphorus atoms, and silicon atoms bonded with boron. When photovoltaic cells are hit by photons (particles of light), the different materials work together to create both a positive or negative charge and this in turn forms an electrical field. Specifically, a solar panel works by allowing photons to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity.

The Different Types of Solar Cells Used

There are three main types of solar cells used in solar panels and they can each have an impact on the efficiency of your solar panel.

Monocrystalline silicon: These cells provide high efficiency and good heat tolerance characteristics in a small footprint.

Polycrystalline (or multi-crystalline) Silicon: These cells are probably the most popular choice for residential installations. Recent advancements in polycrystalline panel technology have resulted in the development of modules equal to or superior to many monocrystalline brands in terms of size, efficiency and heat tolerance.

Amorphous (or thin-film) silicon: This type uses the least amount of silicon. Thin-film has always been cheaper but less efficient than conventional solar panels, however, in recent years, this technology has advanced and in some cases, is out-performing Polycrystalline Silicon.

How Much Power Do Solar Panels Produce?

The amount of power solar panels produce depends on the level of sunlight falling on a specific location per year, the efficiency of the solar cells inside, and the age and size of the solar panel. As a rough estimation, a typical solar panel would produce around 200 watts of power and a standard installation might be about a 5 kWh array, or roughly 25 panels.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

The cost of a typical solar panel is determined by the size in Watts, the physical size, the quality of materials, the warranty period and any certifications the solar panel might have.

In general, solar panels for your home will cost a few hundred dollars each. Prior to installing solar panels, it is advisable to assess your energy usage with a trained professional to determine the quantity and quality of solar panels required.

To Stay on or off the Grid?

Since solar panels only generate power when the sun shines, many people opt to stay connected to the grid. If it’s the case that your solar panels are producing more energy than you’re using then the excess power will flow back into the grid. In a lot of places, utility companies will offer a program called “net metering” – this will compensate you for the extra power you produce. You may also decide to supply only part of your average electricity bill with solar, and use the grid for the rest. Either way, a grid-connected system means that you will never have to worry about being without electricity.

How Long do Solar Panels last?

Usually, a solar panel will last 30 years or more and lose some ½ percent (0.5%) conversion efficiency annually. It is advisable to keep solar panels clean throughout the year, for example hosing the panels off a few times during the summer or removing leaves for them during the autumn.