Experience The Power of Solar Panels

Solar panels are quite an extraordinary product. The sun shines of the surface and an electric current is generated and that current can be used directly to power certain appliances or converted to alternating current to power a wide range of features and appliances in homes and offices world-wide.

So let's take a closer look at solar energy panels - what are they - how do they work – where can they be used - what they can be used for - how much do they cost?

What Are Solar Panels?

These panels are made up of a series of solar cells, wired together, covered, and encased in a frame. Dimensions vary but a typical dimension is 10' x 4' (3.05m x 1.2m). A solar cell, also called a photovoltaic cell, is made up of a material known as a semi-conductor, usually a silicon compound.

Pure silicon is not used – it needs to be combined with other chemicals such as boron and phosphorous compounds. These cells are quite efficient but also expensive. Variations of the silicon technology have been developed – multi-crystalline silicon is less expensive but also less efficient and amorphous silicon is non-crystalline and less expensive but also not stable for solar panel applications.

More recent technology advances have seen the use of other compounds such as gallium arsenide which is highly efficient but horrendously expensive.

Poly-crystalline thin films are a new development with great promise for the future. The cells are commonly made with cadmium telluride and absorb a greater degree of the sun's energy than other cells.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

The panels absorb sunlight and the light energy generates a reaction within the solar cell that ends up creating an electric current.

To explain further...

The current is provided because of the movement of electrons within the cells caused by the light energy striking the cells. At the same time an electric field is created which creates a voltage and product of the current and the voltage is referred to as the power.

Solar panels are rated in watts which is the product of the amperes and voltage of the panel. However, consumers must realize that power losses occur which mean less power than the rated power, often by 10%. In other words a solar panel with a 200 watt rating may only produce 180 watts.

Unfortunately, for many years, the efficiency has been a major problem for the industry. By that we mean the percentage of light energy converted into electric energy by the panel. The going efficiency rate has been 10-15%, topping out at about 16-17%.

As recently as February 2012, the German company Siemens in conjunction with US company Semprius, announced a prototype solar panel with an efficiency of nearly 34%. This “doubling” leap forward could well have big implications for the industry if the technology can become widespread.

Where Can Solar Panels Be Used?

The short answer to that question is almost anywhere. However, it”s worth making some comments on this area.

They can be used anywhere where the sun shines but there are sometimes some limiting factors that come into play.

  • To maximize their output they need to be free of shading from trees, buildings, cloud cover and other obstructions. The shading on even one cell on a solar panel can cause a drastic reduction in power output.

  • They need to be carefully located – facing true South in the Northern hemisphere and true North in the Southern hemisphere. They also need to be tilted at an angle corresponding to the local latitude. A deviation from these requirements will result in less power generated.

What Can Solar Panels Be Used For?

The uses are many and varied:

  • At the miniature level they are used in calculators, garden lights and roadside signs

  • At the medium scale level they are used to power individual homes

  • At the large scale level they are not only used to provide electricity for whole communities but also for large commercial or recreational operations.

    A great example of this latter use is the Taiwan Solar Stadium where the lighting is powered by 8,844 panels covering a roof area of 14,155 sq meters and providing 3,300 lux - this provides for all the stadium lighting as well as powering two jumbo-size video screens. When the stadium is not in use the power can be fed off into community usage. A really amazing development!

    Taiwan solar panels stadium

    Photograph: Inhabitat.com

    It's clear then that solar panels have a wide range of applications.

    Their potential for home use is huge as the technology improves and the costs come down.

    Solar energy is a wonderful free and renewable resource and our vision is that increasing numbers of people will invest in it and enJoy the benefits of reduced (or vanished altogether) power bills and at the same time make a contribution to a healthier environment.

    So let's start with you, our visitor. Are you ready to invest in solar panel energy?

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