Homeowners who are interested in getting a solar panel installation are going to have quite a few questions. For instance, what is solar power? How do solar panels work? What are the different parts of a solar-powered system? What are some of the benefits of solar energy?
What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is the energy that we can generate from the sunlight. We can harvest the sun’s energy is through the photovoltaic effect. We can then convert that energy from the sun’s rays into power that our homes can run on.
To generate solar energy for your home, you are going to need a solar-powered system. A solar-powered system contains a few basic parts; an inverter, racking and what it get’s its name from; solar panels.
How the Photovoltaic Effect Works
In 1839, Edmond Becquerel was the first person to discover the effect of photovoltaic cells. He noticed that certain materials would give off sparks of solar energy when they are hit with sunlight. Researchers soon discovered this and coined the term, the photovoltaic effect. The first photovoltaic cells were made of selenium, and were created in the late 1800s. In the 1950s, scientists at Bell Labs began to revisit the technology. Using silicon, they began to produce photovoltaic cells that were able to convert 4% of the solar energy coming from the sun, into usable solar power.
- The silicon photovoltaic cells absorb solar energy radiation.
- When the sun’s rays interact with the silicon cell, electrons start to move, creating a flow of electric current.
- Wires capture and feed this direct current solar energy to a solar power inverter to be converted into usable alternating current solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work
When it comes to learning how solar panels work, it is very important to know how photovoltaic cells work. The most important components of photovoltaic cells are two layers of semiconductor material that are commonly composed of silicon crystals. The crystallized silicon, on its own, isn’t a very good conductor of solar energy, but, when impurities are intentionally added, the process that is called doping, it sets the stage for creating the electric current.
The bottom layer of the photovoltaic cells is typically doped with boron. The photovoltaic cells then bond with the silicon to facilitate a positive charge (P), while the top layer is then doped with phosphorus. Next, the photovoltaic cells bond with the silicon to facilitate a negative charge (N).
When the sunlight enters the photovoltaic cells, the solar energy that is coming from the sunlight knocks electrons loose in both layers. Because of the opposite charges of the layers, the electrons want to flow from the n-type layer to the p-type layer. But the electric field at the P-N junction prevents this from happening.
The external circuit provides the necessary path for electrons the n-type layer to the p-type layer. The electrons flowing through this circuit, provide the owner of the solar panels with a supply of solar energy.
Most solar-powered systems are based on individual square photovoltaic cells. Alone, each cell is going to generate a very small amount of solar power (a few watts), therefore they are grouped as solar panels. The solar panels are either going to be used individually or grouped into a larger array of solar panels.
What are the Different Parts of a Solar-Powered System?
When it comes to solar-powered systems there are a few key components to a solar-panel installation to generate solar energy, you will need a few key components;
- Solar panels, to capture solar energy from the sun.
- A solar power inverter, to convert solar energy into usable solar power for our homes.
- Racking the foundation that your solar-powered system is mounted on.
You will also need a method to store the solar energy that is generated by the solar panels. If you have access to power lines you won’t need any additional equipment. You can simply feed the utility grid any excess power and then use it later. But if you don’t have access to the utility grid, or you simply want to go off-the-grid here’s what you will need;
- Batteries, to store the solar energy that your solar-powered system generates.
- The charge controller, to control the rate at which the batteries will charge from solar power.
These are all connected by smaller components such as wiring, fuses, and disconnects.
You also will have the option to add equipment to monitor your solar-powered system’s output online, which will help if there are any issues with shading or defective equipment.
Some Benefits of Solar Energy
- Solar energy is a source of renewable energy: sunlight is an infinite resource. The sun’s rays can be harvested for energy over and over again without depleting the source.
- Lower Electric Bills: as a replacement for grid-tied properties, solar energy costs just a small fraction of what you pay the utility company each month. A properly sized solar-powered system can drop your electric bill to $0.
- Remote Power: If you live in a remote location, it may be too expensive or impossible to run power lines to your home. Solar-powered systems can generate solar energy when you can’t hook into the grid.
- Improve Property Value: Homes with a solar panel installation sell for more than homes lacking a solar panel installation. On average, home with a solar panel installation sells for $14,329 more.
- Reduce Air Pollution: Solar panels are going to help get rid of air pollution. While a truck is going to have to deliver the solar-powered system to your house. The solar panel installations are going to create clean energy that isn’t going to contribute to air pollution.
- Solar Panels Reduce Water Pollution: This is one of the biggest of the environmental benefits of solar energy but is possibly the least talked about. When it comes to solar energy there isn’t going to be any pollution of local water resources, nor does their operation strain local supplies through the competition with agriculture, drinking systems, and other vital water needs.
How Long do Solar Panels Last?
Most manufacturers are going to offer a 25-year warranty on their solar panels will be at least 80% efficient for 25 years.
When the warranty is up, the solar panels don’t just stop working. They will simply work at a reduced output. Solar panels that are rated at 300 watts, would still produce 240 watts of output at the 25-year mark.
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