What is a solar panel?
Solar panels, also known as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, produce renewable electricity for commercial and residential applications. A solar panel is a set of interconnected solar cells (PV cells), which can be connected to other solar panels in a larger photovoltaic array. Together, the connected solar cells produce clean electricity that can be used just like any other fossil fuel-based electricity.
Solar panels can be made using a wide variety of technologies:
- Crystalline silicon: These solar products are made with silicon wafers cut very thin, which are then applied to a rigid frame with conductive material that conveys the sun’s energy to batteries or the electrical grid.
- Thin film: Using cell technologies that use compounds like cadmium telluride (CdTe) and amorphous silicon (a-Si), which are applied to either rigid or flexible modules that range in thickness. Though these have the advantage of being cheaper to make, they are not yet as efficient at capturing solar energy as crystalline PV modules.
- Perovskite: A new type of solar cell developed for commercial use at Princeton University in 2022. As a lightweight, affordable alternative to traditional silicon-based PV modules, perovskite solar cells are poised to revolutionize the solar energy industry.
Solar electric systems can either be installed as grid-tied systems or off-grid systems:
- Grid-tied: A grid-tied or grid-connected solar panel system connects to the local municipal energy grid so that when the solar panels produce more energy than is needed by the home or commercial buildings, the clean energy is pumped into the municipal system. Likewise, when the solar panels produce less energy than is needed, the building can draw conventional energy from the local grid. A grid-tied system may or may not be installed with back-up batteries.
- Off-grid: These systems rely entirely on battery systems to store the solar energy as it is produced. The building or home then draws their electricity from the batteries. If the building is not connected to the local energy grid, it will run out of power when the batteries are entirely drained.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Solar panels are types of photovoltaic cells that are designed to absorb the sun’s energy and convert it into usable electricity. This type of technology is known as photovoltaics, or PV for short.
Renewable energy industry is developing fast and solar panels are becoming increasingly efficient. Polycrystalline silicon solar cells, the most common type of solar panels, have an efficiency of up to 22%. Efficiency of other types of solar cells varies depending on their composition and technology.
Solar panels are worth it, but only if seen as a long-term investment that will pay dividends in the form of reduced electricity costs and a cleaner lifestyle. The initial investment for a solar panel system may be large, but the long-term savings can help offset the cost over time.