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Solar panels on roof of a house

The Rise of Green Energy: How Do Solar Panels Work?

Thinking About Using Solar Panels on Your Home?

As the world moves faster and faster toward relying completely on green energy, the technology at the forefront of all of this is solar panels.

Solar energy has been gaining a lot of momentum lately because more and more countries have recognized their potential for producing cheap electricity. This is in addition to major improvements in solar panel technology, and various subsidies placed on them by countries all over the globe.

At the end of the day, this begs the question — how do solar panels work? Here is a quick explanation about how solar panels function and how useful they are for homes and offices.

The Most Common Solar Panels

There are more than seven different kinds of solar panels on the market. The most efficient of these are Concentrated Photovoltaic Cells (CVP) and monocrystalline solar panels. CVPs are still in the research phase and are to be released for commercial use soon, making monocrystalline solar the most efficient commercially available. However, they are also the most expensive.

Instead, this article will concentrate on Thin-Film: Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-Si) and Polycrystalline Solar Panels (p-Si). These are largely credited for the solar panel revolution because of how extremely easy they are to produce, and, consequently, how cheap they are sold.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI)

These kinds of solar panels are easy to recognize from their external coloring and uniform look, as a result of high-purity silicon. They are made from single-crystalline silicon ingots that are cylindrical in shape. They are cut on all four sides to optimize performance and lower costs, giving them their characteristic look.

The high silicon purity gives these solar panels efficiencies of over 20% and high power output. However, they are the most expensive of the bunch.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Poly-Si)

These are easily distinguishable from mono-Si because they have squares and the angels are not cut. They are made from melting silicon, which makes the process faster and cheaper, but also makes the panels less efficient. On the plus side, they are not affected by changes in temperatures to a large degree.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Despite the differences in design, all solar panels work in basically the same way.

First things first, it’s important to understand that solar panels are comprised of smaller units known as photovoltaic cells. Many of these linked together form a solar panel, and they are what are responsible for converting sunlight to electricity. Each of these cells is made up of two slices of semi-conducting material, normally silicon.

When photons are allowed into a solar panel, they knock electrons free from their atoms. These electrons are not free to travel in the form of electricity. Remember, electric current is the flow of electrons from one point of an electric circuit to another.

For these electrons to actually flow, though, we first need an electric field. Inside the electric field, the electrons can only flow when opposite charges are separated. To achieve this, one slice of silicon is given a positive charge while the other is given a negative charge, in a process referred to as ‘‘doping.”

Essentially, the tip layer has phosphorus added to it, and phosphorus has extra electrons. This creates a net negative charge. The bottom layer normally gets boron, which has more protons than electrons. This adds up to a positive charge at the bottom. Now, we have our electric field.

At this point, when a photon of light knocks an electron free, the electron is pushed out of our silicon junction, still sandwiched between the two layers of doped silicon. The electron is then drawn to either side and is allowed to flow through the circuit. Of course, in reality, we’re not dealing with just one electron. We’re dealing with millions at a time. This is electric current.

A few other components come together to make the process complete — conductive plates on the sides of the cells move the current to the wires. Once there, the current can move over to storage or be used just like any other source of electricity.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Having Solar Panels at Home

Pros

  • Cheaper electricity bills: Since you are technically generating some of the energy used at home on your own, expect the amount you pay for your energy bills to drop. In fact, there’s a chance you’ll be paid for exporting surplus energy back to the grid.
  • Wide range of uses: Not long ago, solar energy could barely be used for anything other than heating water. Today, it can be used for everything from warning your home to powering your treadmill.
  • Needs little to no maintenance: As compared to petrol generators, for example, they don’t need a lot of maintenance other than being kept clean.
  • Renewable source of energy: Of course, we mustn’t forget that solar energy is renewable. It helps take care of our planet and reduce greenhouse emissions that result from burning fossil fuels.
  • Improves the value of your home: This is pretty self-explanatory, because you’ll see the value of your home rise quite a bit. This has a lot more to do with the value the solar panels provide rather than their cost. In other words, it adds more value to your home than the cost of the panels.

Cons

  • Relatively expensive: Solar panels have major long-term savings, but are very expensive on initial purchase. This includes wiring, batteries, an inverter, the solar panels and cost of installation. With the continual advancements we’ve been experiencing lately, however, expect the price to go down.
  • They depend on the weather: The biggest downside to solar panels is that they can only work when it’s sunny — and there has to be plenty of sunshine too. A few clouds and no more electricity.
  • Storage is expensive: Normally, solar energy has to be used right away or stored in batteries that are used off the grid. These can be charged during the day and used at night but are very expensive. It’s a lot better to use solar during the day and rely on the grid at night.