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In the first part of Solar Energy Primer we discussed the prequel of planning your renewable energy system, reduced consumption and calculating the consumption of your main appliances.  Part two of Solar Energy Primer will discuss Solar Panels.  Subsequent parts of Solar Energy Primer will cover Power Inverters, Charge Controllers, Batteries and more... so stay tuned!

Solar Panels, also called Photovoltaic (PV), convert the sun's energy into electricity we can use to power our appliances and run our homes.  In very basic terms, solar panels capture photons in thin silicon wafers which cause electrons to get "excited" and move, thus producing electricity.  A solar panel is a collection of silicon solar cells wired in series to produce a specific voltage.

There are 3 basic types of Solar Panels on the market today:

  • Monocrystalline: The most efficient and expensive solar panels are made with Monocrystalline cells. Long silicon rods are produced which are cut into slices of .2 to .4 mm thick discs or wafers which are then processed into individual cells that are wired together in the solar panel.
  • Polycrystalline: Usually called Multi-crystalline, Polycrystalline cells are slightly less expensive and efficient as Monocrystalline cells because they are grown in a large block of crystals rather then on long silicon rod like Monocrystalline crystals.
  • Amorphous: Usually called Thin-Film, a thin layer of silicon deposited on a base material such as metal or glass to create the solar panel. Amorphous solar panels are cheaper, but much less efficient then Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline panel.  Although less effective, Amorphous solar panels can be made into long sheets of roofing material to cover large areas of a south facing roof surface.

It is important to note that PV panels produce Direct Current (DC) electricity or most commonly called VDC.  Our home appliances require Alternate Current (AC) power (VAC), thus a power inverter is required to convert DC to AC power we will use in our homes.  We will get into Power Inverters and Chargers in Part 3, but keep this in mind that we are talking DC Volts when discussing raw electricity produced from Solar.

A typical 12V PV panel contains 36 solar cells and be rated up to 100 watts.  Solar Panels above 100W are usually 24V, two 36 solar cells wired in series.  It's more common to see 24V or 48V (two 24V wired in series) systems installed than 12V systems.  The advantage is the higher the voltage, the smaller the wire gauge required to transfer the electricity to from the solar array to the inverter.  The inverter will be configured to accept the VDC from the Solar Array and convert it to VAC for home appliance use.  In solar energy systems that have a battery bank to charge, the inverter will drop the higher 24V or 48V to charge the battery bank and when necessary convert the 12VDC from the battery bank to 120VAC.

Stay tuned for more Solar Energy Primer series covering Solar Energy Systems.

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