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What to look out for in a good solar panel system

A solar panel’s primary function is to convert light into electrical energy (direct current). Solar panels are made up of several interconnected solar cells and together with solar panels, they form an array. Inverters are attached to solar panels to convert direct current into an alternating current.

Types of solar panels

There are various types of panels to suit the user’s various needs:

Monocrystalline solar panels

Monocrystalline solar panels

Monocrystalline panels

These are the most common types of panels. They are dark in color and are preferred over others because they have a better temperature tolerance.

Rear contact solar cells

They are known to achieve higher efficiency with all the electrical contacts on the rear end instead of in front of the cell. As such, there are no metal contact strips blocking light from reaching the cell’s surface.

Thin film solar cells
Thin film solar cells

Thin film solar cells

They consist of mostly amorphous silicon. They are made of thin photovoltaic materials which is the reason why they are rarely used on rooftop arrays due its low efficiency.

How to choose good solar panels

Solar panels are made for hot conditions and a well installed panel increases electricity output when it gets a lot of sunlight. However, despite the fact that solar panels should face the sun to trap as much sunlight as possible, their efficiency would reduce if they become warmer. This explains why you get less power on a very hot day than on a normal day. To increase the panel’s efficiency, install one with a lower temperature coefficient.

Before installation, customers should ensure that they have purchased good quality and durable solar panels. The good news is that solar panels have warranties. A standard manufacturer warranty is 25 years.
Types of solar panels warranties consist of:

Performance warranty

This warranty guarantees that a panel’s efficiency will not drop below certain levels. If efficiency drops, you should consult your contractor.

Workmanship warranty
Workmanship warranty

Workmanship warranty

This warranty offers to repair, refund or replace the solar panel in case of accidents or defects.

In order to prevent inefficiencies in instances such as when there is no light the customer may opt for battery backups in cases such as in an off-grid solar photovoltaic system. Before installing solar panels, it is important to assess the condition of your roof first. Solar panels are very heavy. To support their massive weight, you should have a sturdy roof which is in good condition.

For maximum efficiency, solar panels have to be placed on a higher ground to get enough sunlight. It is also imperative that there are no trees or other obstructions of light near the solar panels.Tall trees should be pruned to let sufficient sunlight fall on the cells. Shadows cast by trees or other objects would reduce efficiency of the system.

It is also advisable to find a reputable company/contractor to install the solar panel system. You should pick a qualified and certified contractor. The contractor should have prior experience in installation and should clearly understand the expectations of the customer.  

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Solar panel inverters vs micro inverters

There are various forms of energy available nowadays. Solar energy is becoming more popular as it is readily available. It is also renewable and environmentally friendly, thus playing a big role in reducing the effects of global warming. The sun delivers its energy in two main forms, namely heat energy and light energy. Consequently, there are two main types of solar power systems: solar photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity and solar thermal systems that trap the sun’s heat.

Solar photovoltaic systems contain PV modules which, when exposed to sunlight generate direct current electricity. In order to make this form of electricity into a more usable form that can be used in off-grid and grid connections for both commercial and local setups, inverters are used.

Inverters
Solar panel inverters

Solar panel inverters

An inverter is an electrical device used in photovoltaic modules that convert direct current into more usable alternating current electricity. When installing a photovoltaic system with the help of a certified and licensed installation company, there are various types of inverters to be considered. Before choosing a photovoltaic inverter, consider the following:

  • Check for loose termination of cables and make sure they are tightened before purchase to avoid system dysfunction.
  • Replace the inverter upon realization of abnormal operating temperatures
  • Test the inverter and ask for replacement if it fails to function.
Solar panel inverters

This converts direct current of a photovoltaic solar panel into an alternating current for both commercial and home uses. A solar power inverter is attached to a dozen of solar panels, collects direct current from these panels and converts that current into alternating current. These types of inverters are most commonly used as they use Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT). This helps to get maximum power from the PV array. A PV array is formed by the parallel interconnection of PV strings.

Solar panel inverters are not entirely ideal as shadows of tree, dust or dirt on the panel may reduce the output of the whole array since they are connected to the same inverter. Therefore, they lack individual power panel optimization.

Micro inverters
solar panel micro inverter

solar panel micro inverter

A solar panel micro inverter or simply a micro inverter is a device that converts direct current generated by a single solar module to alternating current. Unlike other solar inverters that connect to multiple solar modules, micro inverters are attached to a single module. This has its own advantage as the panels can attain single power panel optimization where shadowing of trees on one solar module does not affect the whole array and output of the system.

Micro inverters improve safety for those installing the system and the owners as they eliminate the need for high voltage direct current wiring which is potentially dangerous. These types of inverters are known to be silent workers compared to other types of inverters. They also emit less heat, hence less cooling is required. Longer periods of warranty also make using micro inverters ideal. The most significant disadvantage of micro inverters are the high costs involved in their installation and replacement.

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Solar energy is currently the most readily available source of energy. Even though the sun doesn’t shine for 24 hours daily, it still provides consistent, renewable and environmentally-friendly energy. Due to the numerous advantages of this form of energy, most people have opted to go the green way. However, tapping into solar energy and converting it for our own use is not an easy task. Solar panel installation is a long process which requires precision. Solar power systems comes in two forms: solar thermal systems and solar photovoltaic systems. Solar photovoltaic systems convert sunlight into electricity.

Types of photovoltaic systems (PV systems)

There are two types of PV systems:

Grid-connected PV systems

used in areas with no power grid

used in areas with no power grid

This system can be found in areas that are well covered by the national power grid. This system is installed on buildings or on the ground. Here, the building (be it a residential or commercial building) receives power from two supplies – from the solar PV and the power grid so that on days where there is no sunlight to generate photovoltaic electricity at night, the power grid can kick in to supply electricity for the users in the building.

Off-grid solar PV systems

This type of solar PV system is applicable in areas with no power grid. There are no hefty costs involved in tapping into it. An off-grid solar PV system is often characterized by rechargeable batteries which function as backups when there is insufficient sunlight to generate electricity such as during the night.

Solar power installation costs
cost reduction

cost reduction

When planning to install a solar PV system, its costs are affected by many factors such as:

  • Government incentives and support schemes – these play an important role in cost reduction. Government incentives may include Small-Scale Technology Certificates that reduce the upfront cost of installing a PV system.
  • Removal of trees and other types of shades – solar panels cannot be installed in a shady place. Hence, surrounding trees may need to be removed and this would incur additional cost for the person installing a solar panel system.
  • Type and number of panels – you can expect to pay more if there are many panels to be installed. Panels of better quality and which are more durable would be more expensive to install as well.
  • Labor involved – professionals are needed throughout the installation process and that means an increase in cost. An off-grid installation is known to be more expensive as there are additional costs in buying back-up batteries.
  • Contractor installation costs – the consumer is also expected to pay the contractor (either a company or an individual) for their services.

Before choosing a solar PV installer, consider the following factors:

Does the company have experience in installing PV systems?
experience in installation of PV systems?

experience in installation of PV systems?

A company with working experience in installing PV systems is the best option. That’s because it is experienced in managing potential issues and knows how to overcome them. The company may also offer a lot of advice on the best equipment to buy.

Does the company have a license or is it certified?

This means that the installer should have an electrical contractor’s license from the relevant electrical body. Installation by a non-licensed contractor does not offer guarantee for the customer in case of system failures.

A solar PV system warranty

The standard PV module warranty has 20-25 years of performance warranty. This warranty consists of a workmanship warranty that offers repair and refund in the event of system defects. It also has a limited power output warranty that offers solutions if the PV system’s output falls below certain levels.

Installing solar power requires a lot of capital so it is important to choose your system installing company carefully.

Installing solar panels

A solar PV system is not complete without solar panels. Solar panels perform the primary function of converting light into electricity. Before installing solar panels, you must have a sturdy roof to support the heavy panels. The roof should also be in a good condition. It is also imperative to know that solar panels cannot be installed in a surrounding full of trees and other obstructions of light as the output from the system would be low. Trees should be pruned to avoid casting shadows on the solar panels.

Solar panels should be positioned high enough and should be facing north to be exposed to as much sunlight as possible. Certified contractors with vast knowledge of installing solar panels are preferred as they understand their customer’s needs well. A combination of good quality solar panels and impeccable installation will increase the output of the system.

 

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Determine the amount of electricity you need

The size of solar panels you need will ultimately depend on the amount of electricity you use. Typically, the amount of electricity a solar panel produces is proportionate to its size. To determine which size suits your needs, you will need to calculate the average amount of electricity you use on a daily basis, then convert it into the voltage a particular size of panel produces.

Firstly, you should add up all your electricity bills for the past one year and find the average. Find the voltage you use monthly for the past one year, and then average them. It’s easy to find the voltage as it is always indicated in your electricity bill.

Rooftop space available
Size of Rooftop

Size of Rooftop

The next thing is to determine whether the space available on your roof can accommodate a solar panel. Actually, it doesn’t always have to be a rooftop space. Nowadays, many people build support structures if the design of the roof doesn’t offer enough space for a solar panel.

A normal solar panel measures about 3 feet by 5 feet. We assume that you have about 225 square feet of space on your roof. Divide 225 by 15 and you now know that you could mount up to 15 solar panels on your roof.

How efficient are the solar panels

You will need to determine the kind of solar panels you want. Typically, the size of a panel (among other factors) will determine the efficiency of electricity production. It will also determine if you need just one panel on the roof or a dozen panels to support your electricity needs.

To get an average of 190 watts from a panel, you will need a panel of 58 inches long and 34 inches wide (these dimensions are the average dimensions of different brands of solar panels available in the market). With the size of your roof and the amount of electricity you need, you can determine if these average measurements of a solar panel works for you. If you need less than 190 watts and have enough space on your roof, you just need a solar panel that is bigger to produce more electricity.

Location of the solar panels
Location of the solar panels

Location of the solar panels

Location is also key. The efficiency of a solar panel is based on the average amount of sunlight it is exposed to daily. If you live in an areas with abundant sunshine, then you will not need a large solar panel.

However, if you live in a cold area where it is overcast most of the time, you will need solar panels as huge as possible to get the electricity you need. The cost of buying and maintaining the solar panel are also important. Its cost will depend on the size you choose which usually varies from brand to brand. Obviously, the smaller the solar panel, the more affordable it is.

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The prices of solar panels
 prices of solar panel have been reduced

prices of solar panel have been reduced

In the solar energy business, cost and pricing is divided into three main categories. They include those buying small quantities (those who just need a little amount of kilowatts for their consumption), mid-range buyers (those who may need electricity of up to 10 Mw annually) and the large quantity buyers.

The prices of solar panel have been reduced by about 250 times comparing current prices with those in 1970. This is because of the development of cheaper ways of producing solar panels. The fact that there are many companies in every country producing the same product has also led to the decline in pricing, from about $150 a unit to just $0.60 per watt.

Factors affecting solar panel prices

Weather and climate
Solar panel cost depends on weather & climate

Solar panel cost depends on weather & climate

Prices of solar panels depend on the weather and climate conditions of the location where they are installed. Price per kilowatt in often cold and overcast North England is more expensive than in the sunshine-filled parts of Spain.

This is because the panel installed in North England have to be specially engineered since sunshine is scarce in North England. In Spain, however, the construction of solar panels used in that part of the world is really simple as sunshine is always available over there. This means that it is easier to produce electricity in Spain than in North England and that affects the pricing.

RMI and BOS factors

Half of the total installation cost is mainly determined by RMI and the elements of the balance of system (wiring, racking system and several of other components). It will depend on the solar panels installation company and their pricing. Prices are determined by the amount of money used in the production of electricity.

Obviously, the cost will be higher than the production cost because solar panels installation companies all want to run profitable businesses. However, prices also depend on the location of solar plants and how far away the source of electricity (the plant) is from you, the customer. This type of electricity production is common in areas where there are alternatives for electricity generation from fuel-powered generators. Thus, the cost of electricity in these areas is sky-high.

Wholesale grid parity
yield smaller bills

yield smaller bills

Generally, solar power systems yield smaller bills than other typical sources of electricity in the market. That’s because they doesn’t need a lot of maintenance and as long as it is getting enough sunlight, electricity is unlimited.

For those who rely on solar energy using “busbar parity” or “wholesale grid parity “, their bills is lesser than all the other fuel sources and even the reliance of hydroelectric power, mostly during the summer when the levels of water sometimes go down – reducing the amount of water used to turn the turbines. Most solar energy systems need very little regular servicing and maintenance. These factors have become the reasons why solar energy systems are so popular throughout the world.

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How and why solar panel production has grown
How and why solar panel production has grown
Solar panels gaining popularity

Solar panels gaining popularity

When the production question comes to mind, a lot of factors are at stake. Production of solar panels has grown so much in the last couple of years, owing much to campaigns for clean sources of energy and eco-friendly practices. According to studies, the production of solar panels has grown about 117.8% in recent years. This has pushed the number of solar energy systems installed to about 15.1GW of electricity worldwide. This shows how popular solar energy systems are. Many people who have installed solar systems enjoy huge savings in their electricity bills. It can be said that the annual growth in solar system installations all over the world is not about to stop in the near future.

Looking closely at the numbers, you  will realize that production in major panel companies has gone up. Companies like Yingli, Trina Solar Company, Sharp Solar Company, the Canadian Solar Company are producing the most number of panels if you look at the electricity capacity for their products. Yingli is in the lead, producing about 3200 Mw of electricity worth of panels. These companies have almost doubled their shipments year on year since 2010.

The science behind solar panels production

The production of solar panels mostly involves silicon cells. As of now, they are not as efficient as they should be and can only produce (or convert) solar energy to usable electricity at just 10-20%. A lot of scientific effort has been made to ensure that these cells become more efficient which lead to the production of more electricity.

Solar panel production statistics
Solar Panels are eco-friendly

Affordable & eco-friendly

Solar energy is an affordable and eco-friendly source of energy all over the world. To add numbers to these statements we have to view the surveys of this year, 2016 to understand more about these. 7.5 GW installed in the United States of America in 2015 alone. It can be assumed that it’s due to the price reduction in solar panels. The market has also experienced about 18% growth of photovoltaic cells compared to 2014. Generally, there is an observable trend of solar panels production increasing year on year.

According to the department of energy in the US, the first quarter of 2016 has seen the number of solar panels hitting one million. There are speculations that solar panels installation may hit 2 million units in the following year. This source of clean energy is desired by everybody. This means more solar panels production and sales in the coming years.

 

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 Recycling solar panels

Recycling solar panels

As the world aims to be cleaner and greener, initiatives are undertaken to achieve these objectives, especially through the use of solar energy. Recycling solar panels can also be done in environmentally-friendly ways. When the solar module cannot function anymore, it can go into the recycling bin. Recycling solar panels parts is an industry gaining popularity. This has mostly been seen, especially through the formation of the PV cycle. This movement, initiated by many photovoltaic companies, has been encouraging the recycling of old solar panels. However, what really happens to old solar panels during recycling?

Recycling of materials made of silicon
solar panels can be recycled

solar panels can be recycled

Solar panels are made of silicon, glass and other materials. Parts of the solar panels made of silicon get recycled. In fact, almost 90% of materials from old solar panels can be recycled to make new ones. The recycling process starts manually where junction boxes, aluminum frames and various parts are taken apart one by one. After crushing down the old solar modules, glass, plastics, silicon and other metals are separated and taken to different processing plants. Glass are readily accepted by glass foam or car manufacturing industries. The silicon parts are returned to make more solar panels. With this recycling process, you could yield almost 85% of the initial weight of the panel. Talk about making money out of trash.

Recycling for non-silicon materials

What about the non-silicon parts from old solar panels? Well, they are also removed one by one and crushed. The goal here is to remove as many semiconductors in the old solar panels as possible. This is mostly done in the cadmium telluride modules. The process may also involve the use of chemical baths to separate as much materials as possible. Most private companies use the chemical baths method to squeeze out as much cash as possible from old solar panels. This process is designed to recover about 95% of glass and possibly 90% of semiconductors embedded in the old parts.

The process of recycling has been there since 2007 with the initiation of the PV cycle as stated above that was to involve both people and the companies making panels to help out in the recycling process in Europe. Most panel manufacturers have committed to eco-friendly practices in their businesses.

 

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Solar panels maintenance

Solar energy is a reliable and affordable source of electricity. This makes maintaining solar panels very important. Rain, dust particles, pollen or grime could accumulate on the solar panels, getting in the way of photons and their interactions with electrons and reducing the efficiency of the panels.

Cleaning of solar panels
Solar panels cleaning is cost efficient

Solar panels cleaning is cost efficient

Cleaning becomes a vital procedure for the maintenance of your solar panels. You may decide to hire a solar panel company to clean them. However, most solar panel installation companies offer cleaning as a package when helping you install them. It is not advisable to clean the solar panels yourself, especially if your roof is very high. Solar panels cleaning is very cost efficient as they only need to be cleaned once or twice every six months.

Other types of maintenance for solar panels

Other types of maintenance which your solar panels may need include testing and inspection services that may range from visual inspection to the testing for electrical faults and failure. This type of maintenance helps to identify factors of underperformance that may be lowering the efficiency of solar panels.

Testing & inspection of solar panels

Testing & inspection of solar panels

Maintenance packages offered by most companies cater to different services according to the customer’s needs. This may include an annual cleaning package.

Annual cleaning of solar panels include thorough cleaning and maintenance of panels, including the removal of dirt, dust and other types of grime which may affect the efficiency of your solar panels. Other types of services could include photovoltaic inspection where the professionals ensure that the panels are functioning properly. There is also inverter system checks, junction box checks, distribution board and cabling repairs and inspections. During the maintenance process, you could also have your meter checked for faults, voltage and current consistency. It is important to request for a maintenance report so that you have enough information on how your solar panels are functioning.

Cost of solar panels maintenance

What could these maintenance services cost you? Most solar panels maintenance companies offer very competitive prices ranging from $250 to $400 for the annual package (inclusive of all inspections and maintenance). Frequency of solar panels maintenance will depend on your agreement with the company. However, it is important to note that solar panels do not need a lot of upkeeping.

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Performance and degradation

Solar energy has proven to be a reliable source of electricity for the world. However, many people do not understand its performance and how it works. Module performance is determined by use of a standard test. This includes irradiance of 1000W/m^2, a solar spectrum of about AM 1.5 and a module temperature of 25°C. On the other hand, electrical characteristics are determined using terms like nominal power, short circuit current, open circuit voltage, maximum power voltage, maximum power current, peak power and module efficiency.

Terms of electrical characterization
Electrical characterization

Electrical characterization

Nominal voltage is the voltage that can be termed as a classification voltage. This is the voltage that is carried over from the days when battery systems were the only things going. Technically, it means that if the module is charging a 12v battery, then the nominal voltage is 12v. The nominal voltage in turn serves as a guide to ensure that systems are compatible with a module.

Open circuit voltage is the maximum voltage that the module can produce when it is not connected to a load. This voltage can be measured with a voltmeter or a multimeter. This specific voltage is clearly stipulated on the specification sheet and sticker. The voltage is used as a testing value once the package with the solar module has been opened. It is also used to test the temperature calculation in a system design.

Peak power module is a term to describe the maximum output measured under a standard test condition. Most modules in the market fall between measurements of 1×2 meters and may have ratings of between 75 watts and 350 watts. It depends a lot on the efficiency of the module and how it has been designed.

It is vital for solar modules to be able to withstand rain, snow, hail and all types of weather conditions. That is why manufacturers of solar modules and the ones making crystalline silicon modules have a 10-year warranty for their solar modules which have 90% output rates. A good module should have the capacity of 80% output rate even if it is as old as 25 years old.

Degradation
potential induced degradation

potential induced degradation

One form of degradation which solar modules has is potential induced degradation (PID). This is an induced performance degradation that is brought on by stray currents. It causes power yield and an output of up to 30%.

Photovoltaic modules are also affected mostly by the efficiency of the cell. This is because the amount of activation energy that has to be overcome by a photon do that it can excite an electron and thus the electric formation to take place. Scientists came up with a solution known as doping. This involves chemicals like boron being applied to semiconductors. Boron, being an impure element, reduces activation energy from 1.12eV to 0.05 eV.

 

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What are smart solar modules?
What are smart solar modules?
 smart solar modules

smart solar modules

The desire for efficiency has pushed scientists to research and develop smart solar modules. It will be only a matter of time before smart solar modules are introduced. This is the addition of electronic components into photovoltaic modules which allows each module to perform individually at maximum power point tracking (MPPT). This in turn allows the measuring of performance data, thus monitoring and detection of faults can be done at the module level. The integration of a module optimizer into the junction box allows up to 30% longer strings and saving of balance-of -system (BOS).

Benefits of smart solar modules

The solar module has quite a lot of advantages. It provides safe solar energy in that it allows for remote disconnection and thus allows deactivation of solar modules during emergency situations such as fire breakouts. This will put users one step ahead in keeping emergency situations under control. Smart solar modules also allow the monitoring of the panel’s functionality and getting real-time data. This is crucial as it enables users to understand the panel’s functionality.

Smart solar modules have the highest power density. This allows the user to install as many modules as possible on any roof. This means more electricity and more power. Smart solar modules also have uneven strings which makes solar modules flexible, allowing you to place your solar panel anywhere. Apart from home lighting, this flexibility also allows the user to integrate solar power into other kinds of applications.

solar panel can yield much electricity

solar panel can yield much electricity

Smart solar modules enable maximization of energy yield. With the elimination of mismatch losses through impedance matching technology, the harvest of electricity increases significantly. With even minimal sunlight, the capacity of power per module increases significantly. This means the solar panel can yield as much electricity as possible with minimum sunlight.

Most smart solar modules in the market are fully integrated, allowing them to be compatible with any inverter. Having smart solar modules typically means that the user doesn’t need any additional boxes mounted onto a module. Due to the lower cost brought forth by the curve technology in some of these smart solar modules, there are few combiners, fuses and copper wires needed. This means cost effectiveness.

 In a nutshell

Smart solar modules are not only efficient, they are more powerful, safer and less expensive as well. A lot of engineering has gone into letting solar modules be this efficient and cost-effective. With smart solar modules, the future is definitely bright.

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