Solar Panels Overview

Solar Panels are devices used to convert free solar energy into usable electricity. We will discuss the elements of solar panels, including the various types of solar cells and what power you can expect to achieve from your solar panel system.

This video provides a great overview of Solar Panle Energy Systems for your home:

Components of Solar Panels

A solar panel is an assembly of several different components. Solar cells, backboard, cover, frame and supports along with wiring make up a completed solar panel

Solar Cells create the electricity. A Solar Cell is a photovoltaic (PV) device that is a thin wafer of silicon encapsulated in an environmentally protective laminate. The solar cell changes light energy into electric current. One solar cell produces 0.5 volts.

Backboards support the array of solar cells and electrical connections between the strings of cells in the array. A clear plexiglass cover protects the solar cells from rain, snow and dirt.

Solar Panel Frames enclose the panel components and provide strength to the solar panel.

Solar Panel Supports are used to point the panels at the correct angle to capture the suns rays.

Solar Panel Diagram

Types of Solar Cells

Monocrystalline Solar Cells
Monocrystalline solar cells have been around the solar market for many years. They have a iridescent blue color, distinct rounded corners and are readily available.

Monocrystalline solar cells are produced from a single silicon ingot or crystal. Although this type of solar cell is the most expensive due to Manufacturing costs they are the most efficient type of solar cell. Since these cells are very fragile, it is important that they be mounted in a very rigid frame.

Monocrystalline cells have a life expectancy of 25 to 50 years.

Polycrystalline Solar Cells
Polycrystalline modules are manufactured from a block of multi-crystalline silicon. They are usually square or rectangluar shaped. Slightly less efficient than monocrystalline modules Polycrystalline cells are cheaper to manufacture and less costly. The lifespan is similar to monocrystalline cells.

Thin Film Solar Cells
Amorphous silicon PV or thin film technology are produced by applying silicon material on glass or stainless steel, or more commonly between two pieces of flexible laminate material.

The flexible laminated thin film panels can be applied to any surface and are used as roofing material. Many people prefer the look and seamless blending of solar panels into their roof structure. Thin film panels are not as efficient as mono or polycrystalline solar panels about half as efficient. Therefore you need twice the space to accommodate a thin film installation. If space is not a prime concideration, then thin film panels are a very cost effective option. They are flexible, light and rarely break during shipping. At a good price, this makes thin film panels a great choice for home energy systems.

Here is a good video on how a solar cell works from the US Dept of Energy:

Panel Sizes and Power Output

Panel Size is dependent on type of solar cells and desired output voltage. An example for solar cells measuring 3?6 in 4 columns of 9 cells would be approximately 36 inches by 28 inches. This allows for some spacing between the cells and a one inch border on the sides and top, and a 2 inch border on the bottom for the tabbing and wiring connections.

A solar panel with 36 cells would average about 18 volts. (36 cells x 0.5V = 18V) a 12 volt system requires at least 14 volts to charge the batteries in your system.

More Panels = More Voltage More Amperage

A Solar Panel array system allows you many options. By adding more panels, you can increase your total voltage or increase your total amperage (current) of your system. Connecting panels in series will add the voltages of each panel to the total. Connecting panels in parallel will add the amperes of each panel to the total. You can use series and parallel connections in combinations to both increase voltages and amperes for the system.

You need to match your configuration of panels to the capabilities of the rest of your system batteries, inverters and charge controllers.

In this article, weve discussed the components of a typical solar panel, the various types of panels, and the size/power outputs of solar panels. These are the essential elements for your home energy system.