A solar panel (also known as a solar module, solar cell, pv panel, photovoltaic panel) is a packaged, or collective term used for an assembly of solar panels as known in the industry as Photovoltaic cells converts radiation from the sun and turns it into energy we can use in our homes. With the aid of an inverter the current can be converted to a regular AC current. A solar panel can be used as a component of a larger photovoltaic system to generate and supply electricity in commercial and residential properties.
Solar panels use light energy, called Photons from the sun to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. Most solar panels have a thin layer of wafer based crystalline silicon cells or thin film cells based on cadmium telluride or silicon. The conducting wires that take the current off the panels normally contain silver, copper, or other non magnetic conductive transition metals.
Because of the limitations of one panel in terms of the power it can create, most installations will contain more than one solar panel. Normally a solar panel array will contain several solar panels, an inverter, and sometimes a battery.
A Solar Panel system is undoubtedly a big investment for any homeowner! The Feed-in tariff will provide tariff incentives to UK residents for 25 years and thus its hugely important to the profitability of a solar panel installation that everything is installed properly and good quality panels are being used. Components will vary quite a bit from installer to installer, in terms of, electrical output, form factor, and weight. Most solar panels will come with a 20-25 year warranty, making solar a long term investment hugely dependant on the quality of the initial investment.
A large sticking point for many people when it comes to weighting up whether to install Solar Panels on their roof is the price. Although Solar Energy is an excellent long term investment the initial cost of installation can deter people from going ahead.
However the cost of Solar Panels could be set to fall dramatically as a breakthrough in technology has been announced at Oregon University, United States.
The new technology sees Solar Panels printed not built. Research into the making of Solar Panels has unearthed a way to ‘print out’ solar cells via an inkjet-like machine, using a material called chalocopyrite. The process is estimated to speed up the production of solar panels significantly, and cut raw material waste by up to 90%, leading to a reduction in the cost of solar panels.
This new method of creating Solar Panels also increases the efficiency which should contribute to even better savings once installed.
Although this new technology is not ready yet, it represents a breakthrough and potential lead to driving down the cost of Solar Panels and therefore making them more attractive to wider range of people.
Amorphous solar panels are a new type of solar panels which are relatively cheap and widely available. They are named so because of their composition at the microscopic scale. Amorphous means “without shape”. When the term is applied to solar cells it means that the silicon material that makes up the cell is not highly structured or crystalized.
Amorphous solar cells are usually created by applying doped silicon material to the back of the plate of glass. The cells will normally appear dark brown on the sun-facing side, and silvery on the conductive side. When used as a solar panel it will appear to have several thin lines running parallel across it. These thin lines, are actually breaks in the N and P layers of the silicon subtrate and they create the boundaries of individual cells. Amorphous panels often come without any obvious hook up points, so it can be confusing to use them at times!
Where to get them?
Amorphous panels are now very popular and can be bought from most good solar panel manufacturers or outlets selling solar panels, one company is Jameco.
How to install them
You have to attach wires to the silvery surface on the back. This can’t be done unless you have conductive tape or conductive epoxy. Soldering just doesn’t work. If possible, take an ohmmeter with you to test things out.
There are three main forerunners in the type of Solar Panel market, Polycrystalline, Monocrystalline and Amorphous. Each have their differences, and subsequently their pros and cons. We talk extensively about the pros and cons of Monocrystalline Solar Panels – here.
For anyone thinking of getting Solar Panels installed the prospect of earning 10% of your investment back per year will be enough to convince you it is a good idea. However there are always thoughts of further expenditure or the cost to repair a faulty system in the back of your mind.
As the investment is realistically taking place over a minimum of 25 years you want to ensure the technology will last the distance. Most PV panels come with a warranty that guarantees the panels will still produce at least 80% of their initial rated peak after 20, sometimes 25, years.
This suggests that manufactures expect that their panels will last at least 20 years, and that the efficiency decreases by no more than 1% per year.
The lifetime of Solar Panels are very difficult to estimate as very few renewable energy systems have been installed for long enough. Even globally very small number of PV installations are older than 10 years.
There are two main industry common solar panel types, Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline, both are PV (photovoltaic) solar modules however the structure of the silicon used within each is different. Monocrystalline silicon is formed with a continuous crystal lattice structure making it highly purified and very efficient at converting solar energy into electrical energy. The process of manufacturing silicon with a singular crystal structure makes it slightly more expensive than Polycrystalline silicon which is formed with many small crystals.
With the government originally due to review the Feed-in Tariff in summer 2012 it was a surprise to everyone when they announced a consultation for 31st October 2011. However this was not nearly as big as the surprise as the outcome of the meeting!
The government have decided that from the 12th December 2011 the Feed-in Tariff will be reduced by around 50%. See latest Feed-in Tariff »
Another meeting, the fourth in 9 months, has been planned for the new year which will consist of a comprehensive review.
The short of the long is that finding out your daytime electricity rate can be a task in itself, most public utility companies in the UK rates and charges are a bit of a minefield. From our experience the best way to find out your electricity rate is to explore your end of month or end of quarter bill. Alot of UK utility companies will be charging quarterly, and by kWh. So thats a good place to start.
The most simple way to work out your electricity rate for the quarter as an average is to take the total amount of KWh’s used in the billing period. Just tot them all up.
Lets say your total = 2,500kWh
And your total bill was 350.00 inc VAT.
First remove the 20% VAT rate.
350 X 0.8 = £280
Now divide the total chargeable by your total kWh usage.
280 / 2500 = 0.112p per kWh in your billing period.
If you are unsure of what a kWh may convert to in terms of running an electrical appliance check out this post »
So you have read the hype, heard the offers on the radio and seen the adverts on the TV of companies offering free Solar Panels. You may be thinking to yourself…free solar panels, why not? The simple answer is don’t!
As the old saying goes “if something is too good to be true…it probably is…”
Reasons not to get involved in “Free Solar Panel” offers
Are the Solar Panels really free? Yes they are! Companies are offering to pay you to have Solar Panels fitted on your roof which in turn enables them to reap the rewards of the governments Feed-in Tariff rather than you.
By agreeing to a free solar panel scheme you will find it difficult to sell your home in the future as another company contractually owns your roof for a minimum of 25 years.
The companies offering this sort of deal will tell you that you can save money on your electricity bill. This is only true if you are at home a majority of the time during the day as electricity produced this way cannot be stored and is therefore fed back into the grid making yet more money for the company who installed the Solar Panels.
If you are thinking about getting Solar Panels installed on your roof make the investment yourself and receive the feed in tariff rewards yourself.