How Does a Solar Panel Work? | Solar Panel Types

What is Solar Panel?

A solar cell panel, solar electric panel, photo-voltaic (PV) panel, or just a solar panel is an assembly of photovoltaic cells mounted in a framework for installation. Solar panels are used to convert light from the sun, which is composed of particles of energy called “photons”, into electricity that can be used to power electrical loads.

A collection of PV modules is called a PV panel, and a system of PV panels is called an array. Arrays of a photovoltaic system supply solar electricity to electrical equipment.

Solar panels can be used for a wide variety of applications including remote power systems for cabins, telecommunications equipment, remote sensing, and of course for the production of electricity by residential and commercial solar electric systems.

On this page, we will discuss the history, technology, and benefits of solar panels. We will learn how solar panels work, how they are made, and how they create electricity.

A Short History of Solar Panels

The development of solar energy goes back more than 100 years. In the early days, solar energy was used primarily for the production of steam which could then be used to drive machinery. But it wasn’t until the discovery of the “photovoltaic effect” by Edmond Becquerel that would allow the conversion of sunlight to solar electric energy.

Becquerel’s discovery then led to the invention in 1893 by Charles Fritts of the first genuine solar cell which was formed by coating sheets of selenium with a thin layer of gold. And from this humble beginning would arise the device we know today as the solar panel.

Russel Ohl, an American inventor on the payroll of Bell Laboratories, patented the world’s first silicon solar cell in 1941. Ohl’s invention led to the production of the first solar panel in 1954 by the same company. Solar panels found their first mainstream use in space satellites. For most people, the first solar panel in their life was probably embedded in their new calculator – circa the 1970s!

Today, solar panels and complete solar panel systems are used to power a wide variety of applications. Yes, solar panels in the form of solar cells are still being used in calculators. However, they are also being used to provide solar power to entire homes and commercial buildings, such as Google’s headquarters in California.

How do solar panels work?

Simply put, a solar panel works by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. Solar panels actually comprise many, smaller units called photovoltaic cells. (Photovoltaic simply means they convert sunlight into electricity.) Many cells linked together make up a solar panel.

Each photovoltaic cell is basically a sandwich made up of two slices of semi-conducting material, usually silicon the same stuff used in microelectronics.

To work, photovoltaic cells need to establish an electric field. Much like a magnetic field, which occurs due to opposite poles, an electric field occurs when opposite charges are separated. To get this field, manufacturers “dope” silicon with other materials, giving each slice of the sandwich a positive or negative electrical charge.

How do solar panels work

Specifically, the seed phosphorous into the top layer of silicon, which adds extra electrons, with a negative charge, to that layer. Meanwhile, the bottom layer gets a dose of boron, which results in fewer electrons, or a positive charge.

This all adds up to an electric field at the junction between the silicon layers. Then, when a photon of sunlight knocks an electron free, the electric field will push that electron out of the silicon junction.

A couple of other components of the cell turn these electrons into usable power. Metal conductive plates on the sides of the cell collect the electrons and transfer them to wires. At that point, the electrons can flow like any other source of electricity.

Recently, researchers have produced ultrathin, flexible solar cells that are only 1.3 microns thick about 1/100th the width of a human hair, and are 20 times lighter than a sheet of office paper.

There are other types of solar power technology, including solar thermal and concentrated solar power (CSP) which operate in a different fashion than photovoltaic solar panels, but all harness the power of sunlight to either create electricity or heat water or air.

Types of Solar Panel

There are three major types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. Each type has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and the solar panel type best suited for your installation will depend on factors specific to your own property and desired system characteristics.

1. Monocrystalline Solar Panel

These solar panels are made using thin wafers of silicon, which are extracted from artificially grown crystals. Single crystals developed in isolation help to form these cells and make them the most efficient.

This is why these are the most expensive among the other types. Compared to their counterpart polycrystalline cells, monocrystalline solar cells are about 35% more expensive and provide an efficiency rate between 15–24%.

Monocrystalline solar cell

2. Polycrystalline Solar Panel

Polycrystalline solar panels are a newer development in the different types of solar panels, but they are rising quickly in popularity and efficiency. Just like monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline cells are made from silicon. But polycrystalline cells are made from fragments of the silicon crystal melted together.

During the manufacturing process, the silicon crystal is placed in a vat of molten silicon. Instead of pulling it out slowly, this crystal is allowed to fragment and then cool. Then once the new crystal is cooled in its mold, the fragmented silicon is thinly sliced into polycrystalline solar wafers. These wafers are assembled together to form a polycrystalline panel.

Polycrystalline cells are blue in color because of the way sunlight reflects on the crystals. Sunlight reflects off of silicon fragments differently than it does with a pure silicon cell. Usually, the back frames and frames are silver with polycrystalline, but there can be variations. The shape of the cell is square, and there are no gaps between the corners of the cells.

3. Thin-film solar panel

If you’re looking for a more cost-effective option, consider thin films. Thin-film solar modules are made by placing one or more films of photovoltaic material (such as silicon, cadmium or copper) on a substrate.

These types of solar modules are the easiest to manufacture and, due to economies of scale, cheaper than the alternatives, as less material is required to manufacture them.

They are also flexible, which opens up many possibilities for alternative applications and is less affected by high temperatures. The main problem is that they take up a lot of space and are generally unsuitable for residential installations.

In addition, they offer the shortest guarantees, as their lifespan is shorter than that of mono- and polycrystalline solar modules. However, they can be a good option to choose between the different types of solar panels that have plenty of space.

4. Amorphous Solar Panel

The cheapest form of solar cell is an amorphous solar cell. These are newly launching cells that are manufactured in a unique way. They avoid the use of crystals. Instead, their production process involves thin silicon deposits on the backing substrate.

Amorphous solar cells provide two major benefits, ie. Flexibility in solar cells with its extremely thin silicon layer, and high efficiency in low levels of light during winter.

But, while these promise the above benefits, they also compromise efficiency. They provide the lowest efficiency rates of 7% – 9% compared to the other two variants. Thus, they require about twice the panel area to give the same output. Until now, they do not even have an approved production technology in the industry, and therefore, they are less robust than the other two types of solar panels.

5. Biohybrid Solar Panel

It is not a completely solar cell, but a hybrid solar cell is a mixture of monocrystalline solar cells and amorphous solar cells. Hybrid solar cells are called HET (heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer) solar cells.

Compared to each individual type of solar cell, the hybrid type is the most efficient due to the combination of the power of the two solar cells. These work best during sunny seasons, ie beyond the 250C temperature. In view of the same, this helps generate about 10% more electricity.

If one has to choose the best, polycrystalline cells prove to be the most suitable for most installations due to their value for money, design, and efficiency rate.

FAQs.

What Is A Solar Panel?

Solar energy begins with the sun. Solar panels (also known as “PV panels”) are used to convert light from the sun, which is composed of particles of energy called “photons”, into electricity that can be used to power electrical loads.

Solar panels can be used for a wide variety of applications including remote power systems for cabins, telecommunications equipment, remote sensing, and of course for the production of electricity by residential and commercial solar electric systems.

What is a solar panel easy definition?

Definition: Solar panels are those devices that are used to absorb the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity or heat.

A solar panel is actually a collection of solar (or photovoltaic) cells, which can be used to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. These cells are arranged in a grid-like pattern on the surface of solar panels.

What is solar panel and how it works?

Solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy either through photovoltaic (PV) panels or through mirrors that concentrate solar radiation. This energy can be used to generate electricity or be stored in batteries or thermal storage.

How many solar panels are needed to run a house?

On average, a house with monthly electricity consumption of 1000 kWh requires 26 – 30 solar panels (Each solar panel is 320 watts).

Can you install solar panels yourself?

It is possible to do the process of installing solar panels on your own. There are solar systems designed specifically for DIYers that, while sometimes time-consuming, should be more than doable. It’s worth noting, though, that many DIY solar panels are not designed to hook up to the traditional energy grid.

What is the price for a solar panel?

Solar panels cost, on average, about $16,000, or between $3,500 to $35,000 depending on the type and model. While solar panels can help save you money on energy costs, it’s important to know the overall startup solar panel costs so you can plan a budget.

How big is a 400-watt solar panel?

The dimensions of an average 400-Watt solar panel are about 79” X 39” X 1.4”. The 400-watt solar panel size and power output ratio make it a good option for solar installations with space constraints.

Can AC run on solar panels?

The answer is YES. Generally, there are two types of the solar systems – off-grid and on-grid solar systems. An off-grid solar system comprises solar panels, inverters as well as batteries. ACs can easily run on on-grid solar systems with capacities ranging between 3 kW to 10kW.

How long do solar panels last?

about 25 to 30 years

But the solar panels generating that power don’t last forever. The industry-standard life span is about 25 to 30 years, and that means that some panels installed at the early end of the current boom aren’t long from being retired.

How do I calculate how many solar panels I need?

You can calculate how many solar panels you need by multiplying your household’s hourly energy requirement by the peak sunlight hours for your area and dividing that by a panel’s wattage. Use a low-wattage (150 W) and high-wattage (370 W) example to establish a range (ex: 17-42 panels to generate 11,000 kWh/year).

Can solar panels work at night?

While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current.

What are the 3 types of solar panels?

There are 3 types of solar panels primarily used in the solar industry:

  • Monocrystalline solar panels.
  • Polycrystalline solar panels.
  • Thin film (amorphous) solar panels.

Can I run a 1.5-ton AC on solar without batteries?

In theory, you can run a 1.5-ton ac on solar without batteries, provided that there is enough power being driven from the solar panel into the appliance. It is important to mention that a 1.5-ton air conditioner consumes somewhere around 1.6 kW of power.

Which type of solar panel is best?

Among all panel types, crystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency.

  • Monocrystalline panels have an efficiency rating over 20%.
  • PERC panels add an extra 5% efficiency thanks to their passivation layer.
  • Polycrystalline panels hover somewhere between 15-17%.

Is there a 500-watt solar panel?

What is a 500- watt solar panel? Among the most innovative of the solar industry’s developments in recent years is the 500- watt solar panel. The 500- watt solar panel was designed to meet the energy output needs of medium and large solar systems using fewer panels, ultimately increasing efficiency and lowering costs.

How many solar panels do I need to run a refrigerator?

The average refrigerator takes about three or four average solar panels to run. The average refrigerator found in the United States uses approximately 57 kWh per month while the average freezer uses 58 kWh. Adding those together brings a combined total of 115 kWh.

How long do solar panels take to pay for themselves?

Most homeowners in the United States can expect their solar panels to pay for themselves in between 9 and 12 years, depending on the state they live in.

Do solar panels make house hotter?

According to a study conducted by researchers at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, solar panels reduced the amount of heat reaching the roof by an incredible 38%, keeping a building’s roof 5 degrees cooler than portions of a roof exposed to sunlight directly.

How many AC can 5KW run?

About 5kW Solar System, it can run 2ton AC with 2 Fan, 8 LED lights and 1 Fridge easily.

How many solar panels do I need for 5000 watts?

16 Solar Panels. 5KW Solar Power Grid Tie Kits (5000 Watts, 16 Solar Panels (6.4ft x 3.3ft), Mounting Racks and Grid Tie Inverter): Everything Included to go solar? just install it yourself.

Do solar panels need servicing?

Solar panels are designed to be low maintenance. Unlike a boiler, your solar panels should work efficiently without a yearly service. You shouldn’t need to pay extra costs for maintenance packages to keep them running well.

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