How Do Solar Panels Work

Solar energy has been around for awhile, but recently it’s been recognized as a viable source to keep our environment in check as far as noise and air pollution go. For some, solar energy is a difficult concept to grasp. Lawn décor and calculators are prime examples of some widely used solar powered gadgets, but the looming question for consumers has been, how do solar panels work?

The basic answer is that certain materials are used to harness the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity which can be used to power our electronic devices. But it’s a bit more complex.

An important, budding technology involving solar energy that’s being used today is photovoltaic (PV) electricity. This is the use of unique materials that convert solar energy into electricity, and this electricity is either stored through the use of DC batteries or it can be used instantly.

Photovoltaic technology includes the use of specific materials that have been recently developed. These materials discharge electrons when persuaded and influenced by solar power. This creates a voltage potential as well as electricity flow. A photo voltaic panel is also called a ‘direct energy conversion device’ since all of these effects are taking place on an atomic level minus any moving parts.

Photovoltaic panels used to be restricted to space age technology. Satellites and space stations used them for their reliable and continuous conversion of solar power. Outer space has an advantage when it comes to solar energy since the sun’s radiation is, at the very least, 50% stronger out there than here on Earth.

Those living far from an electrical grid, more than a mile, are more likely to use photovoltaic technology, especially in residential homes. Power transmission cables cost way more than installing a photovoltaic power array. If you are a significant distance from an electrical grid then it’s a good idea to consider solar energy for your power source.

But still, the looming question is “how do solar panels work?” Well, solar energy is made up of two kinds of radiation. One is called “beam radiation”. Beam radiation can be visualized by imagining direct sunlight on your skin while at the beach on a clear, sunny day. These cloud-free days make a major contribution to solar energy being gathered by solar panels, but the solar panels need to be strategically placed to harness the most sunshine possible.

The other kind of radiation is diffuse radiation. This radiation is strewn all over the place in all directions (as its name suggests). On a cloudy day, it’s the primary radiation source…or if you’re relaxing under a shade tree, diffuse radiation is what you’re going to get. Unfortunately it isn’t very strong and relying on diffuse radiation alone for solar energy isn’t practical at all.

For solar panels to work efficiently, a sunny location is mandatory. Beam radiation is the most effective since it’s the strongest. Most of Western America qualifies…those states are good candidates for the use of solar energy, but northern climates and coastal states are usually quite cloud-laden and sadly, not worthy of 100% solar-reliance.

Solar panels can be set-up to meet your specific needs. 12 volt, 24 volt, and 48 volt DC systems are the most common. The life expectancy of 12 volt solar panels is well over 20 years and they fall in the range of 12-14% efficiency.

Today’s production of solar panels consists of using supremely pure silicone semi-conductor materials. This is primarily what makes the use of solar power so expensive. Luckily there are new materials in the making and they’re particularly geared toward lowering the cost of production, thus lowering the cost for the consumer…us. Cadmium Telluride based solar panels are an example of new solar energy technology, and if these materials are successful in the final outcome then the price of solar panels should greatly decrease, making our environment that much cleaner as more and more people convert to solar power.

You’ll want to assess your weather patterns as well as your local utility rates before making a final decision as to whether or not to install a solar panel system at your residence, but the benefits to the environment truly outweigh the monetary aspect. The decision is much simpler if you intend to use solar merely as a backup plan. Energy independence is a common goal for all. It helps the environment in so many ways that simply can’t be ignored.

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