Solar Panel Systems: An Overview

Nov 12, 2023

house with solar panels on the roof

The increasing focus on renewable energy sources has resulted in the growing popularity of solar panel systems.

This article explores the basics of solar panel systems and their growing significance for us all today.

What are solar panel systems?

technician installing solar panels

Solar panels, or photovoltaic systems, are designed to capture sunlight and convert it into usable electricity. These systems comprise several key components, including solar cells, inverters, and batteries, each playing a crucial role in efficient energy conversion.

The technology behind solar energy is constantly evolving, offering increased efficiency and wider applications.

The significance of solar energy

Solar energy is a clean, renewable resource. It reduces reliance on fossil fuels, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and diminishing our carbon footprint.

Solar power contributes to energy independence, allowing individuals and businesses to generate their own electricity and reducing their dependence on traditional power grids. This self-sufficiency not only has environmental benefits but also offers financial advantages, such as reduced energy bills and potential income through excess energy production.

Historical Evolution

How did we move from our dependence on coal and nuclear power stations to our use of the energy from the sun?

  • The Birth of the Solar Cell:
    • In 1839, French physicist Edmond Becquerel first observed the photovoltaic effect, demonstrating how light could generate electricity in certain materials.
    • The first practical solar cell, however, was developed later, in 1954 at Bell Labs. This cell, made from silicon, marked the beginning of modern photovoltaic technology.

Milestones in solar panel advancements

Some of the significant events leading to today’s booming solar energy industry include:

  • Improvements in Efficiency:
    • Initially, solar cells had an efficiency of about 6%. Over the years, this has significantly improved. Today’s cells can achieve efficiencies of over 20%.
    • Key developments include the creation of monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells, which offered better efficiency and affordability.
  • Wider Commercialisation:
    • The energy crisis of the 1970s spurred greater interest and investment in solar technology, leading to its gradual commercialisation.
    • The turn of the century saw a substantial decrease in the cost of solar panels, making them more accessible to the general public.
  • Technological Innovations:
    • Advancements such as thin-film technology and bifacial solar panels have further expanded the potential applications of solar panels.
    • Ongoing research in areas like perovskite solar cells and photovoltaic thermal systems hold the promise of even greater efficiencies and versatility in the future

Core Components

Photovoltaic cells

Solar panel systems include several essential components working together to capture, convert, and use solar energy:

Photovoltaic cells

  • Fundamental Units:
    • Photovoltaic (PV) cells are the primary units of a solar panel. These cells are responsible for capturing sunlight and converting it into electricity.
  • Material Composition:
    • Typically made from silicon, a semiconductor, PV cells create an electrical current when exposed to sunlight.
  • Efficiency and Types:
    • The efficiency of these cells can vary, with monocrystalline cells generally offering higher efficiency compared to polycrystalline and thin-film cells.

Solar inverters

  • Conversion Process:
    • Solar inverters play a critical role by converting the direct current (DC) generated by PV cells into alternating current (AC), which is usable in homes and businesses.
  • Varieties:
    • There are several types of inverters, including string inverters, microinverters, and power optimisers, each suitable for different solar setups.
  • System Integration:
    • Inverters also often include monitoring systems to help track the performance and output of solar panels.

Mounting systems

  • Structural Support:
    • Mounting systems provide the structural support necessary to secure solar panels either on rooftops or on the ground.
  • Orientation and Angle:
    • They are designed to position the panels at the best angle and orientation for maximum sun exposure and, consequently, energy production.
  • Durability:
    • These systems are built to withstand environmental conditions, ensuring the longevity of the solar panels.

Solar batteries

  • Energy Storage:
    • Solar batteries store excess energy produced by solar panels, making it available for use during non-sunny days or at night.
  • Types and Capacities:
    • They come in different types and capacities, including lead-acid, lithium-ion, and saltwater batteries, each with distinct advantages.
  • Integration with Solar Systems:
    • Proper integration of solar batteries into the solar system allows for greater energy independence and efficiency.

Types of Solar Panels

Photovoltaic cells and sun reflecting

The three primary types are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film, each with unique characteristics and applications. Each type of solar panel system offers distinct advantages and limitations. The choice largely depends on specific energy requirements, budget constraints, and available installation space.

Monocrystalline solar panels

  • Composition and Appearance:
    • These panels are made from single-crystal silicon, giving them a uniform, dark appearance.
  • Efficiency:
    • They are known for high efficiency, often exceeding 20%, due to the purity of silicon.
  • Cost and Lifespan:
    • Monocrystalline panels are typically more expensive but offer a longer lifespan, often up to 25 years or more.
  • Application:
    • Ideal for areas with limited space, as their high efficiency requires less surface area to generate significant power.

Polycrystalline solar panels

  • Composition and Appearance:
    • Constructed from multiple silicon crystals fused together, these panels have a speckled blue appearance.
  • Efficiency:
    • They have a slightly lower efficiency, generally around 15-17%, compared to monocrystalline panels.
  • Cost and Lifespan:
    • Less expensive than monocrystalline, polycrystalline panels also have a respectable lifespan, though slightly shorter.
  • Application:
    • Suited for installations where space is less of a constraint and budget considerations are paramount.

Thin-film solar panels

  • Composition and Appearance:
    • Made by laying thin films of photovoltaic material onto a prepared surface, these panels are known for their sleek, low-profile look.
  • Efficiency:
    • Typically, thin-film panels have lower efficiency rates, often between 10-13%.
  • Cost and Lifespan:
    • They are the least expensive but also have the shortest lifespan, needing more frequent replacements.
  • Application:
    • Ideal for large, commercial projects or situations where panel flexibility is a benefit. Their lower efficiency is offset by the large areas they can cover.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

solar panels installed on red roof

By using the photovoltaic effect and sophisticated technology for energy conversion and management, solar panels provide a reliable, sustainable source of power:

The photovoltaic effect

  • Fundamental Process:
    • At the heart of a solar panel is the photovoltaic effect. This phenomenon occurs when sunlight hits a solar cell, causing electrons to be knocked loose from atoms.
  • Material Significance:
    • Solar cells are typically made from silicon, a semiconductor ideally suited for this process due to its atomic structure.
  • Electricity Generation:
    • The movement of these free electrons towards the front surface of the solar cell creates an electric current, which is captured and harnessed for power.

Converting sunlight into electricity

  • Role of Solar Inverters:
    • Once generated, the direct current (DC) electricity needs to be converted into alternating current (AC), the form of electricity used in homes and businesses. This is the role of solar inverters.
  • System Integration:
    • The AC electricity is then fed into the building’s electrical grid or the public electricity network, seamlessly integrating solar energy into everyday use.
  • Monitoring and Regulation:
    • Modern solar systems often include monitoring systems providing real-time data on energy production and system health, ensuring efficient operation and maintenance.

Solar Panel Efficiency

In this section, we consider solar panel efficiency. You should try to ensure your solar systems operate as efficiently as possible, yielding maximum energy output and financial savings.

Factors affecting efficiency

  • Material Quality:
    • The efficiency of solar panels largely depends on the materials used. Higher-quality photovoltaic cells, typically made from monocrystalline silicon, offer greater efficiency compared to polycrystalline silicon cells.
  • Temperature and Climate:
    • Solar panels operate best in specific temperature ranges. Excessive heat can reduce their efficiency, making climate a significant factor. Cooler temperatures generally enhance performance, while high temperatures can decrease it.
  • Angle and Orientation:
    • The position of solar panels impacts their ability to capture sunlight. They should ideally face towards the sun and be angled to capture maximum sunlight throughout the year.
  • Shading and Obstructions:
    • Any shading, even partially, can significantly reduce the efficiency of solar panels. Ensuring they are free from obstructions like tree branches or nearby buildings is essential.

How to optimise solar panel performance?

  • Regular Cleaning:
    • Dust, debris, and bird droppings can obstruct sunlight. Regular cleaning ensures panels operate at peak efficiency.
  • Routine Maintenance:
    • Regular inspections and maintenance detect and fix issues like loose connections or damaged cells, which can impede performance.
  • Energy Consumption Monitoring:
    • Using energy monitoring systems helps in assessing the efficiency of solar panels and identifying areas for improvement.
  • Use of Quality Inverters and Controllers:
    • High-quality inverters and charge controllers can significantly improve the conversion efficiency of solar energy into usable electricity.
  • Timely Upgrades:
    • Keeping up with advancements in solar technology and replacing outdated components can enhance the overall efficiency of the system.

Select Electrical for Solar Panel Systems

At Select Electrical, we’ve been providing top-quality solar systems to homes and businesses in Canberra for 6 years.

What you get with our friendly, expert team:

Consultation and Customisation

  • Expert guidance on selecting the optimal solar panel system for specific needs.
  • Tailored solutions considering location, energy requirements, and budget constraints.

Professional Installation

  • Licensed technicians ensure safe and compliant installation.
  • Use of high-quality materials and adherence to industry best practices.

Maintenance and Support

  • Ongoing maintenance services to ensure system efficiency.
  • Dedicated customer support for any queries or issues post-installation.

Making the transition to solar

Whether you’ve decided to install a solar panel system or you haven’t made your mind up yet. Contact one of our dedicated solar experts at Select Electrical. Some of the help we can provide for you includes

Understanding the Process

  • A detailed explanation of the transition from conventional to solar power plus advice on navigating the complexities of installation and integration.

Financial Considerations

  • Hear our cost-benefit analysis for potential solar panel system adopters. We have all the information on available government rebates and incentives to reduce upfront costs.

Environmental Impact

  • Find out how you can help save the planet with the environmental benefits of switching to solar energy. We will highlight the role of solar power in reducing your carbon footprint and promoting sustainability.

For Solar Panel Systems in Canberra, Select Electrical have the answers for you.

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