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A Solar Energy Panel Discussion

Electricians and Energy Topics
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Because of technological advances, solar energy panels have become increasingly more efficient and more affordable. Solar panel systems can be combined in numbers that can power everything from a small appliance to an entire home. Currently (I get a charge out of electricity puns), there are two primary types of solar panels available to the homeowner: solar electric panels, and solar hot water panels. The two products can be used separately to power a home or heat water, or be combined to create a complete solar energy system.

The Solar Energy Panel

Solar electricity panels work in the following manner:

Sunlight strikes the panels, which are an array of photovoltaic cells, and the semi-conductive combination of silicon, phosphorous, and boron, absorb its photons. The photons are absorbed, and electrons are discharged, traveling through the conducting material, producing electricity in the form of direct current (DC). Convert the direct current to alternating current (AC) involves passing the charge through an inverter. At this point, it can be used for home applications.

The cells themselves are made of two layers of a silicon-based material. In addition, the top layer is infused with phosphorous and the bottom layer is infused with boron, a process known as “doping.” Doping of the layers increases the conductive properties of the silicon and produce positive (P) and negative (N) charges. The boron/silicon layer creates the positive charge, and the phosphorous/silicon layer the negative charge. The surface between the two layer is known as the P/N junction, and electricity flows through it in only one direction – from P to N.

The panels are assembled to create the necessary wattage to provide the needed electricity to run a home or building. As technology advances, smaller and smaller cells that produce more electricity with greater efficiency become available. If a sufficient number of solar energy panels are used, a household can not only reduce its electric bill to nothing, it can generate excess power that can be sold back to electric providers.

Solar Hot Water Panels

Solar hot water panels are used to heat water for various applications. These systems may be any combination of:

  • Active (using pumps and other moving parts)
  • Passive (no moving parts)
  • Open loop (using just the heated water)
  • Closed loop (heating a different medium which heats the water through heat transference)

The best system is the one which provides the appropriate amount of water for a household’s needs at the lowest cost. System configuration is based on the statistic that the average adult uses twenty gallons of hot water. A home with a properly installed system can expect to save 40 to 60 percent on water heating costs. If electricity is provided from solar panels, the two systems combined could reduce energy costs to less than zero.

Installing a solar energy panel to provide electricity, hot water, or both is also subject to a number of tax breaks and incentives. Combine the incentives with decreasing costs and lower bills, a homeowner can be reimbursed for his investment in a very short time.

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