Solar Panel Roundup – A Practical Guide for Living Solutions
Nothing is more powerful than the sun when it comes to its natural influence on the human race and indeed, the very world we live in. Our solar system revolves around it, nature is absolutely reliant on it, humanity has always been in awe of it and its fate is directly linked to our planets’. Solar panels are to the sun what a surfboard is to the waves; mankind’s way of harnessing something of great power and influence to better our lives. The sun offers us a clean source of energy through the use of solar panels, but how do they work? The answer lies in its specific application; how you want them to work and what type of solar panel you use. Many variations exist depending on the materials used, the method of manufacturing, and on the functions they serve. A solar panel’s efficiency depends on many factors, but the most important depends on you, or more specifically, to what you need. To size the most suitable system, the first step is to get an idea of what sort of load you need to power, or in other words, how much electricity you want your solar power system to generate. An electricity monitor can provide you with this data by measuring your household’s average load.
What is a solar panel you ask? Solar panels, more formally referred to as photovoltaic modules, can be divided into four main categories, namely amorphous, thin film, mono- and poly-crystalline.
Amorphous and Thin Film Solar Panels
The first category of solar panels is one that you may have already come into contact with in the form of the small cell on your solar-powered calculator; otherwise known as an amorphous cell. Amorphous solar panels are flexible in that they can be folded up or rolled up like a sleeping bag, making them incredibly mobile; sticking one on the roof of your vehicle while camping can allow for an energy source capable of charging batteries and other functions. These kits are popular with 4x4 enthusiasts and such-like. The materials used in the manufacture of amorphous solar panels allow for flexibility but the materials necessary for this do play an impact in the efficiency; also to consider is the cost of solar panels of this variation as they are normally fairly pricey due to their convenience.
The most noticeable difference between amorphous and thin-film solar panels is their flexibility - literally. Thin-film solar panels use the same materials as the flexible units during the manufacturing process, but they are framed and glass encased (rigid) and have a higher voltage than their silicon-based counterparts. Although they do not have a high efficiency rate, they are low in cost and are thus ideal for solar farms with unlimited space.
Arguably the most popular solar panels in the market today is the silicon-based, aluminium framed crystalline modules which are cost effective and highly efficient with many boasting a power warranty of 25 years. These panels are ideal for off-grid and grid-tied domestic/commercial installations. The only real difference between these panels lies in the make up of silicone and how it’s implemented within the unit. They are manufactured in two ways, namely using mono- and/or poly-crystalline cells. Twenty years ago mono-crystalline solar panels were considered to be more efficient, however with all the technological advancement in the manufacturing of these cells today there is virtually no difference in efficiency between the two; although the mono-crystalline cell is considered to be a purer form of manufacture and is thus considered to be more suited to off-grid installation.
Making the Educated Choice
With your new found knowledge of the different types of solar panels available, your next question should be, “which one will work effectively for my means?” The biggest factors affecting your decision are budget and application. There are consultants in South Africa proficient in the knowledge of solar panels and it’s best to approach them for advice on what would work best given your personal and unique needs. Never rely solely on unspecialised information that you may stumble upon online as the information varies and can become confusing. Sustainable.co.za provides a wide range of solar panels and kits for sale with varying functions all of which are designed to suit your needs without breaking the bank; contact us today for expert advice and custom designed systems.