You certainly don’t have to understand how solar panels work to enjoy their benefits. But if you’d like to know more about it, read on!
In a nutshell, solar panels convert sunlight into electricity.
This conversion takes place due to the properties of the photovoltaic materials which make up the solar panels. When light shines on these photovoltaic materials they experience an internal flow of electrons. This is because the electrons in the crystal structure of the materials absorb the energy of the light particles, which energizes the electrons so they move. The internal electron movement is channelled through the material and into an electric circuit, via the metal contacts on the panel surface.
When a solar power system is being designed, environmental factors and load requirements are taken into consideration.
Grid connect systems export electricity to a larger network, while stand alone systems supply a local load only, usually with a battery backup. Most systems which are located close to an existing supply will be grid connect. This avoids the high cost associated with batteries. Remote stand alone power supplies often incorporate a second power generator, such as a diesel gen-set.
Different types of solar panels suit different situations. High-efficiency panels, like silicon monocrystallines, will often be chosen when installation space is limited or where frames and installation costs are high. Low-efficiency panels, like some thin-films, might be chosen where installation space is plentiful.
Solar panels on fixed arrays will generally be oriented towards the north in the southern hemisphere. This exposes the panels to the greatest amount of sunlight through the day. East facing arrays receive morning light, and west facing arrays receive afternoon light. Arrays might be faced east or west so that power generation matches the times when loads are expected to be high.
The tilt or angle of an array of panels will reflect the time of year that the solar panels receive the most sunlight. Arrays are positioned according to the installation site’s angle of latitude so that the panels are exposed to the greatest amount of sunlight over a year.
Panels that are part of a flatter installation receive more sunlight in summer, and those on a more acute angle receive more sunlight in winter.