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What Is Solar Energy & How Do Solar Panels Work?

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By Author: Saurabh Khatri
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Solar energy is the most widespread sustainable energy source on this planet. Harvesting solar energy with a business or residential PV system that produces clean electricity is a key solution to combating the current climate crisis and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy refers to the light and heat from the sun, which can be utilized in raw form or harnessed and converted into usable heat or electricity. Solar energy is captured using various technologies that include solar photovoltaics and solar thermal.

What is a Solar Panel?
Solar panel, which is also known as a PV panel, is a device that converts light from the sun. Solar panels can be used for a variety of applications including long-distance cabin power systems, telecommunications equipment, remote sensing and of course power generation from residential and commercial solar power systems.

How Do Solar Panels Work?
When solar energy in the form of protons hits the surface of the module, it is absorbed by the solar cells that make up the ...
... module. Photons then loosen electrons from the atoms that make up these cells. The free particles are then able to move across the cells, a process that results in the production of direct current (DC) electricity. The generated power from each of the cells is usually small. That is why the many solar cells in a panel are connected in series to help sum up the produced electricity.

The amount of power that can be produced by a single panel within a given time is dependent on its electrical rating. However, you can still increase the generated electricity by installing more solar panels, which are connected to form a solar array. The more the number of modules in a given solar system, the more electricity is generated within a short period.

Depending on the nature of the site, PV modules can be mounted on roofs, walls, poles and on the ground where they need to be fitted with brackets. The only requirement is that the modules are aligned to the sun. Alternatively, they can be fitted with trackers, which allows them to follow the direction of the sun. The placement ensures that the modules capture solar energy for most of the day.

What are Solar Panels Made of?
Photovoltaic (PV) modules consist of many solar cells. Like semiconductors, solar cells are made of silicon. They consist of a positive and a negative layer, which together create an electric field, similar to a battery.

How Do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?
Photovoltaic solar panels generate direct current (DC).With direct current, electrons flow in one direction around the circuit. This example shows a battery powering a lightbulb. The electrons travel from the negative side of the battery through the lamp and back to the positive side of the battery.

With alternating current (alternating current) electrons are pushed and pulled, periodically changing direction, much like the cylinder of a car engine. Alternators produce alternating current when a coil of wire rotates in front of a magnet.Many different energy sources can "turn the handle"; this generator, such as gas or diesel, hydro, nuclear, coal, wind or solar.

AC was chosen for the US power grid, primarily because it is cheaper to transmit over long distances. However, solar panels generate direct current.How do we bring direct current into the grid? We use an inverter.

Types Of Solar Panels:

There are three types of solar energy systems and two types of panels, the photovoltaic panel, the solar thermal panel and the concentrating solar panels or CSP Collectors.

1. PV Panels use the sun’s light to create electricity, which can be used for residential and commercial supplies.

2. Solar thermal panels use heat from the sun and most of it is used to heat water.

Concentrated Solar Power or CSP collectors have an array of mirrors to focus the sun’s energy into collectors that convert that energy into heat. CSP systems are used in large power plants, while solar systems are used to power solar air conditioners and provide hot water in residential and commercial facilities..

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
Solar panels can last around 25-30 years with proper maintenance and cleaning. Although durable, dust, dirt, bird droppings and leaves can affect performance and slowly reduce the module's ability to generate electricity. Regular cleaning and maintenance of your modules goes a long way in keeping your PV system operating at peak performance and reducing the frustrations associated with poor performance.

When Does a Solar Panel Not Work?
The only time solar panels can fail is during heavy cloud cover and rain or snow, as this blocks most of the radiation, effectively reflecting it off the clouds and not reaching the ground.

More About the Author

Saurabh Khatri is art enthusiastic and loves to read books. He also works for BA Solar Energy, which is a leading organization that provides solar energy related products and services.

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