How do solar panels work?
Solar panels incorporate photovoltaic silicon cells in their design that absorb light from the sun. When this interaction takes place, it causes electrons in the silicon to start moving, and this creates an electric current. The wires in the solar panel then carry this current to a solar inverter whose job is to convert the direct current produced into an alternating current. This is similar to the electricity you usually get in your houses and as such can be used in the same way. With the right amount of voltage, you can connect and power any appliance.
Because the light from the sun is only available during the day, some people incorporate a power station or a battery while setting up their panels. They can consequently store some of the energy produced during the day and expend it at night.
Features to consider before you buy a solar panel
Each solar panel has different characteristics depending on what the manufacturer thought was essential to its client base. Top on that list is the maximum power that a panel can produce at a time. The budget also comes into play as different devices will come at various stages of the cost spectrum. Usually, those with more high-end features end up costing more. Here are the essential considerations.
This determines whether a solar panel is ideal for home use, for camping or for whatever purpose you have in mind. An illustrative example is where a home would need maximum power for powering multiple appliances. As such, a portable 60W wouldn’t do you much good in your house. Conversely, you would only need to charge very few small devices while hiking. A point to note is that the more power a solar panel produces, the more likely it is to be expensive. However, it would prove wasteful buying a cheap model that barely has any functionality.
Optimum operating voltage (Vmp)
As you probably have noticed from our table above, all the solar panels have a different working voltage. However, you will also see that panels with similar wattage outputs also have their operating voltage within five volts of each other. When push comes to shove more is generally better, and that is why the Renogy 300W stands at the top. Nonetheless, in a battery system, this power has to be reduced significantly, so it can charge the cells without causing damage.
The operating voltage also affects the number of appliances it can power at a time as they all have their voltage requirements.
Optimum operating current (Imp)
The voltage drives the current but depending on the hardware components, the resulting current may end up higher or lower. The current is measured in amperes, and this is depicted by the letter A. This also represents efficiency in transferring the energy produced. As such, the higher the optimum operating current, the better a panel is.
Dimensions and weight
Bulky and heavy solar panels tend to be ideal in situations where they remain stationary for long periods. Examples include buildings, whether commercial or residential. It should also be noted that where you are installing the panel on a roof, the roofing material should be strong enough to handle the weight. When it comes to panels that you want to carry around, such as when doing outdoor activities, lighter is better. The roof of that RV you love so much is also probably not strong enough to handle big weights.
What materials are used in the construction of the panel? A solar panel will probably be exposed to different weather elements while outside. It needs to protect the electrical components from contact with water as that may lead to a short circuit and that will in turn damage the panel and probably every other device it is connected to. Where strong winds are concerned, the mounting of the panel needs to be able to hold the panel in place while a strong wind blows through. Of course, solar panels are also prone to wear and tear over time. Quality component materials will ensure that you don’t have to worry about this for a long time after the initial purchase.
Warranty terms are essential in assessing the quality of the product in question. Manufacturers run tests before releasing their products and can thus estimate how long it’ll take for the product to start deteriorating. Comprehensive warranty terms indicate that the makers trust in their handiwork. Also, follow up to see if they follow through on warranty claims. Previous customers of the same products are more likely to give accurate information on this front.
Tips on installing solar panels?
- Consider the space you have available.
You will need space on your roof if that is where you plan on mounting them. Of course, if you plan to go entirely off the electrical grid, you will need more space as that will require more panels. It is not necessary that they all go on the roof. You can also opt to host them in your backyard so long as sunlight reaches them.
- Make use of a professional.
Installing solar panels can be a grueling affair, and if you are not a seasoned DIYer or a professional, you risk damaging your new purchase. If you insist on doing it yourself at least have someone with the knowhow walk you through the process.
- Have a detailed report of your energy needs.
Shopping for a solar panel or panels is an expensive affair, and the last thing you need is to buy equipment that doesn’t benefit you. For that reason, you can survey your electrical appliances, and calculate how much power you would need to use them effectively. This will give you a rough estimate of how many panels you need to purchase and the budget requirements for the whole process.