Without a doubt, one of the most popular and commonly used forms of renewable energy technology is solar panels. So maybe you use outdoor motion sensor lights at home, and you’re not too sure how they work.
So how do solar panels work exactly? Simply put, they take the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity. Sounds quite straight forward, doesn’t it? But in reality, this fact just brings us to more questions rather than answers.
Don’t worry, LED Light Guides is here to explain. In the following post, we will explain how solar energy works and just how does a solar panel work, to get those questions answered.
Explained – How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels work by using a clever technology known as photovoltaic cells held between sheets of semi-conductive materials. When sunlight or photons hit against the panels, the semi-conductive material energizes. This is referred to as the ‘photoelectric effect’ and it is this process that produces the current required to generate electricity.
Currently, most solar panels available react only with the spectrum of visible light as this has the strongest energy. Though, major research is being conducted into using the full spectrum better and generating electricity from infrared and ultraviolet rays.
As it is a direct current, you can’t just plug solar-generated electricity into the mains. It needs to be converted first to make it a more stable and safer alternating current. In order to achieve this, the electricity generated is passed into an inverter, that can then be used in local applications, such as solar flood lights or fed into the national grid.
What are the Advantages of Solar Energy?
Now that we have answered the question, how does solar energy work, let’s take a look at the advantages of solar power.
- Guaranteed electricity while the sun shines, meaning you have a continuous and reliable source of power during the day
- It’s not the heat that is required, but the sunlight so is good in areas that are not blessed with the warmth of others
- Solar paneling can be set up and installed virtually anywhere.
- Solar panels do not require much in the way of maintenance once they are in place, making them one of the easiest to manage forms of renewable energy
- They are perfect for rural and urban applications because the panels don’t produce pollution or noise while they are working.
- There are no real dangers of the cells leaking any chemicals, toxins or fumes, as they are incredibly safe and are usually constructed from silicon.
Solar Energy Challenges
It’s fair to say that despite its many positives, there are some challenges involved in using solar energy, including:
- Energy storage – because the energy is generated through the course of the day, it is important to store it so it can be used at busy times in the evening when there is no sunlight. It is crucial that a suitable form of battery storage is found to cope with the electricity volume that needs to be stored.
- General Public’s Perception – as many people have misconceptions about solar power, there still lots of educating that needs to be done to encourage a wider and greater acceptance of this renewable energy source.
- Require Monitoring – there needs to be restrictions and monitoring in place to ensure that the amount of energy generated does not exceed the demand and become unstable.
What About Cloudy Days?
This is one of the most common questions that arise regarding solar energy. Generally, it’s true that when there are clouds ion the sky, it does reduce the amount of energy generated.
As solar panels utilize the visible light spectrum to generate energy that is converted into electricity as long as there is some light enough, the panels will still work.
What About Heat, is that Required?
As noted earlier, unlike the common misconception people have about solar energy that it needs to be hot for it to work. But, it’s the light, not the heat that generates the energy. If it’s too hot or even too cold, solar panels are actually less efficient.
Different Types of Solar Panels
Although they all come under the same umbrella category, there are actually a number of different types of solar panels. Below we have provided a brief guide to each, discussing what makes them good or bad.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels consist of thin wafers made from single-silicon crystals. These crystals have been grown specifically for that purpose, as semiconductors.
These generally have a higher efficiency than others but are also more expensive than others because of their higher silicon content and the fact they require more energy to function. These kinds of solar panels tend to work best when used to cover smaller surface areas. so, on smaller roofs or smaller sections of roofs.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline are another commonly used type of solar panel. This is produced slightly different compared to the above and involves a complex casting proves. A large block with irregular polycrystalline or multi-crystal is taken and the crystals are sliced into wafers and then woven together to give a very vibrant shattered glass look with a blue tone.
This is because of the application of a layer of anti-reflective material that helps to increase the efficiency of the panels. They tend to be less expensive, due to the lower silicon content they contain and the fact that they are overall less efficient. These are best used to cover larger surface areas.
Amorphous Solar Panels
Amorphous panels are most commonly used in very small applications, such as garden lamps or even calculators. Though there has been something of an increase in the use of them for larger-scale applications. Amorphous panels are made by taking thin films of silicon and placing them on a sheet of a different material, like steel for instance.
Their efficiency is not as high as crystalline panels, and because of their considerably lower power density, they require around triple the number of panels compared to a standard installation to generate the same level of power. They also have a relatively short lifespan, so the return on investment with these is not as good as the alternatives.
Hopefully, the above post has helped to explain some of the basics about how solar panels work, the advantages and challenges related to using them and a little about the types that are available.
Clearly, you will make some money back if you switch entirely or even partially to solar energy, even the smallest change can make a difference, like investing in some solar pathway lights. All you need to do is just weigh up the pros and cons of each and work out which is best for you.