Have you ever driven past a solar farm and wondered, “How do solar panels work?” Today, we will explore what solar panels are and how they produce energy.
Solar panels convert light into electricity. Solar panels are also called photovoltaics, which means “light-electricity”1. Every hour, enough photons impact our planet to generate enough solar energy to theoretically satisfy global energy needs for an entire year2.
How do they work?
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are made of solar cells. A cell is a small disk of a semiconductor like silicon. They are attached by wire to a circuit. As light strikes the semiconductor, light is converted into electricity that flows through the circuit. As soon as the light is removed, the solar cell stops producing power1.
Here’s an example of how a home solar energy installation works. First, sunlight hits a solar panel on the roof. The panels convert the energy to DC current, which flows to an inverter. The inverter converts the electricity from DC to AC, which you can then use to power your home. It’s beautifully simple and clean, and it’s getting more efficient and affordable all the time2.
Types of Solar Panels
- Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI): Monocrystalline solar panels have a high power output, occupy less space, and last the longest, which means they are also the most expensive. They are easily recognizable by their uniform dark look and round edges3.
- Polycrystalline Solar Panels (p-Si): Polycrystalline solar panels have a lower efficiency rate and shorter lifespan, but are therefore less expensive. They are easily recognizable by the square panels with a blue speckled look3.
- Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC): Thin-Film solar cells are easy to produce and less expensive, and are also flexible. They are the most useful for commercial spaces where there is a lot of available space, and are less suitable for residential installations3.
- Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels (A-SI): Amorphous silicon solar panels are often used in pocket calculators. These cells are much less effective but have a low cost3.
- Biohybrid Solar Cell: Biohybrid solar cells are still in the research phase, but the idea behind them is that they emulate the natural process of photosynthesis3.
- Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe): Cadmium Telluride cells have a lower cost, and also require the least amount of water to produce. CdTe will keep the carbon footprint low as well. However, Cadmium Telluride is toxic if ingested or inhaled3.
- Concentrated PV Cell (CVP): CVP cells have the highest efficiency rate of all photovoltaic systems, and they have a curved mirror surface that helps increase efficiency3.
How important is solar power?
The use of solar panels to generate energy provides many benefits, which include reductions in the costs associated with generating electricity. Solar panels also provide pollution-free power sources and afford new levels of independence to energy consumers. There are many benefits of the utilization of solar power, and the following are only a few4:
- Reduces air pollution from coal power plants: Switching to renewable energy that doesn’t require burning of fuels will reduce the carbon emission significantly. Solar energy plays an important role in combating air pollution by generating power with solar panels and eliminating the emission of harmful greenhouse gasses5.
- Preservation of habitats affected by mining: Because solar power reduces the need for fossil fuels, this helps in the preservation of habitats that have been severely negatively affected by the mining of those fossil fuels.
- Generating energy independence: The more domestic solar energy we use as a country, the less we will need to rely on foreign imports of carbon-based fossil fuels, contributing to greater economic, political, and environmental stability. On an individual level, when a business owner or homeowner decides to go solar, they take energy generation into their own hands becoming their own power provider. This not only reduces costs, it provides electricity security to a business, and contributes to a greener environment6.
In conclusion, solar power is an excellent option for not only businesses but individuals and their households as well. The solar industry is always expanding and we are looking forward to some new developments – which we will share in our next News Post on July 3rd, so stay tuned!
1Northwestern University. (2019). What are solar panels? Retrieved from qrg.northwestern.edu: http://www.qrg.northwestern.edu/projects/vss/docs/power/1-what-are-solar-panels.html
2 DeBono, M. (2017, October 24). What is Solar Energy and How Do Solar Panels Work? Retrieved from us.sunpower.com: https://us.sunpower.com/blog/2017/10/25/how-does-solar-energy-work
3Greenmatch. (2019, April 1). 7 Different Types of Solar Panels Explained. Retrieved from greenmatch.co.uk: https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2015/09/types-of-solar-panels
4Callahan, R. (2019). Why Are Solar Panels Important in Our Society? Retrieved from livestrong.com: https://www.livestrong.com/article/151450-why-are-solar-panels-important-in-our-society/
5TurbineGenerator. (2017, June 19). Reducing Air Pollution with Solar Panels. Retrieved from turbinegenerator.org: https://www.turbinegenerator.org/reducing-air-pollution-solar-panels/
6Solect Energy (2019). Gaining Energy Independence with Solar. Retrieved from https://solect.com/gaining-energy-independence-solar/