Solar panels have become a prominent feature of our modern world. They’re commonplace as roofs, streetlights, and even stand-alone structures. While they are a great way to reduce the cost of energy, they also pose some challenges. Everyone should know how solar panels work. Learning about the process will make it easier for you to understand how your home or business can benefit from this popular form of renewable energy.

What is a Solar Panel?

The solar panel is a piece of equipment that allows the sun’s energy to be converted into electricity. This process can be done by either using the photovoltaic cell, which converts light directly into electricity or by putting together multiple solar panels that create more electricity than one could make doing it on its own.

Solar System Roof Power Generation  - ulleo / Pixabay
ulleo / Pixabay

A solar panel system usually consists of a controller, connections, inverter, batteries, and the actual solar panel itself. The batteries are usually going to be lead acid or lithium-ion types. The controller is what handles the power from the solar panels to ensure only enough gets put into storage that it needs throughout the day and night.

This equipment works by absorbing light and turning it into electrons. When this generation of electrons meets an electric current, the following happens: The electrons are given off as heat energy and generate power with the corresponding voltage and current. The higher the temperature, the more heat will be produced and cause the current to rise.

What’s Inside a Solar Panel?

Solar panels consist of many parts. The first step in understanding how they work is to look inside one. The materials used to make solar panels have come a long way over the years. The ones we have today are more efficient and produce more energy for the less initial cost than older models did. With more efficient use of resources, today’s panels are also much more environmentally friendly.

How do Solar Panels Work?

It’s important to note that there’s more than one way that solar panels can work. The most common way is through the photovoltaic effect. Photovoltaic cells are put into a panel that converts energy from the sun into electricity and sends it off for use elsewhere in an electric current.

The other way that solar panels work is to connect the power of photovoltaic cells to a generator. A solar panel only produces enough electricity to power a small appliance or device, meaning it will not be able to power your whole house. Instead, an inverter will take the current from the panel and produce an alternating current (known as AC), which can run your entire house or large appliances such as televisions, refrigerators, and air conditioning units.

How Do Photovoltaic Cells Work?

The photovoltaic cells in solar panels generate electricity when light shines on them. The photovoltaic cells are made up of semiconductor materials that produce electrons or negative charge carriers when exposed to light. This flow of electrons forms an electric current, which can then power things like street lights, homes, and buildings.

How is Electricity Produced in solar panels?

Energy production takes place inside a solar panel through a process called the photovoltaic effect, which occurs when photons (particles or packets of energy) from the sun hit the semiconductor material inside the panel. The photons’ energy excites electrons from their natural state and causes them to flow from one side of the semiconductor to the other. The electric field created by this flow of electrons is what creates an electrical current.

Polycrystalline silicone

The solar panels we use today are not like the original ones that were first used in the 1970s and 1980s. Sunlight was first captured on silicon wafers, but because of their low efficiency, it was later moved to thin-film cells made from polymer-like polycrystalline silicon. The problem with those cells was that when the material used to make them was exposed to air, it turned into dust. The original solar cells were also very fragile due to their thin and delicate construction.

Thin-film cells could be made more durable, but they still weren’t efficient enough to be used in commercial or residential settings. Today, the most commonly used solar panels are made from multi-crystalline silicon or polycrystalline silicon, which can withstand air exposure and fractures in their structural integrity without breaking down.

Nowadays, the solar panels used in devices like calculators often only have one cell because they don’t need as much power, and it would be too expensive to make them otherwise. If a device needs more power, it will use multiple cells to produce it.

How long do solar panels last?

It depends. It can take anywhere from 25 to 40 years for a typical photovoltaic (PV) panel, comprised of a silicon wafer and two glass panes coated with photovoltaic cells, to produce sufficient electricity as well as reach end-of-life (EOL). You can do the following to help ensure your solar panels last for maximum efficiency and longevity.

Solar Panel City Energy  - blazejosh / Pixabay
blazejosh / Pixabay

1. Keep an eye on the quality of solar panels you buy and make sure they are high-quality! There are many cheap and low-quality solar panels out there, so it is your job as a buyer to spot the crumby ones.

2. Cell degradation is the number one cause of a solar panel’s failure. This can happen for many reasons: poor panel design, poor construction, not enough ventilation, and just bad luck. Despite this, there are ways to slow down and limit cell degradation.

3. Solar panels do not need to be mounted on very rigid or strong structures. If your roof has huge gutters that get clogged with leaves and bugs all year round, then you will want to mount your solar panels on something that is more durable and resistant to the elements: metal, like aluminum or glass.

4. Solar panels should be kept clean. If you have a cleaning service that comes to your house regularly, make sure they are instructed to give your solar panels a good cleaning. You should also do it yourself once every few months. Use a soft, wet cloth or even glass cleaner, and don’t use abrasives or vinegar-based products as they might damage the sealed panels.

5. Solar panel owners in cold climates tend to turn off their systems during the winter. It is ok if your solar system is small enough that it won’t put you in danger of losing power during peak demand times (usually between 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm). If you have a large enough system to supply most, if not all, of your electricity needs, then you should definitely keep your system on as it will help extend the life of your solar panel.

6. Solar panels can be tilted in order to ensure that they are facing directly towards the sun. If it is impossible to tilt them, then the owner should ensure that they take advantage of the fact that most solar panels in colder climates face south (for maximum exposure) while many in warmer areas face north for protection from the summer heat.

7. Solar panels should be kept away from high humidity and salt pollution and exposed to consistent winds and rain (which helps prevent snow shedding).

8. Solar panel materials can be made to last a lot longer if homeowners who live in areas with frequent rains are willing to utilize solar panel covers, which are a great way to protect your solar panels from the elements.

9. Solar panels should be maintained on a regular basis. This includes cleaning them, replacing damaged parts, and checking the power output regularly to ensure that they’re working properly. If you have been using your solar panels for years and haven’t checked up on them recently, then now would be a good time to go back and check for dead or dying cells and cracked or chipped glass panels.

10. No matter how established your solar panel is, it can still be expected to break down at some point. It may not happen right away, but it will eventually wear out and need to be replaced.

11. Occasionally check your solar panels’ wear and tear to ensure that they are not just in good working order. Check that you haven’t damaged the panels in any way by dropping them or banging on them too much, and also ensure that the glass on top of your solar panels is completely intact as well as clear.

12. Solar panels should be kept at least 6 inches away from trees and shrubs, brick walls, and insulation barriers. This will ensure that they do not get damaged or become dirty, which can ultimately shorten the lifespan of your solar panels.

13. You should take care of your solar energy system to ensure that you are getting as much energy out of it as possible while also ensuring that it lasts long enough to pay itself off completely in energy costs over time.

14. Solar panels are designed to withstand wind speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. If more than 65 miles per hour are expected, it would be a good idea to secure the panels properly to prevent them from flying off during particularly nasty storms (such as hurricanes).

15. Sunlight has been known to cause issues with solar panels (especially in warmer climates), so it is a good idea to install shade screens when possible and also paint exposed surfaces black if necessary. This will help prevent both solar panels from absorbing too much heat and also reflect some of the heat back into the atmosphere.

16. It is very important to keep an eye on your solar panels to ensure that they’re functioning properly. If you have a big enough system, then you should use a monitoring system that alerts you when your power levels are low or if there are any problems with the energy production of your solar panel. This can be especially useful if you are running low on energy during peak hours when power companies charge more for electricity.

17. If you have decided to invest in a solar panel system for your home, you should also consider investing in a battery backup system. This is especially helpful if you are planning on relying on your solar energy system for the majority of your electricity needs.

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