A solar panel is a wonderfully designed component of a solar power system. It has the ability to capture rays from the sun and convert those rays into useable energy. A couple of decades ago, people marvelled at this technology. But today, solar power is becoming quite common. In fact, it’s quite likely that it will be the norm in South Africa within the next five to ten years.
So, are you interested in the technical aspects of a solar panel? What material is it made up of and how does this material contribute to the panel’s function? Let’s go deeper and see what these panels consist of.
A string of photovoltaic cells
At the heart of a solar panel is a small entity known as the photovoltaic cell. A panel mostly consists of a number of groups of these cells which are stringed together. The more cells as panel possesses, the more energy it can generate.
There really isn’t much more to the inside of a solar panel than the cells it is made up of. Therefore, to answer the question, “What does a solar panel consist of?” we must look at the material used to make these cells. Many people want to try their hand at making their own solar panels. While this is possible, it isn’t as easy as you may think. The materials used are quite specialized. Let’s take a closer look.
Materials used to manufacture cells
Two dominant materials make up a photovoltaic cell: Monosilicon and polysilicon. Some solar cells are made of one or the other, while others are made up of both. But regardless of which one is used, both perform the same function.
The materials are called semiconductors when they are slotted on top of each other like a sandwich. Silicon is part metallic, so it’s made up of the perfect material to attract, conduct and reflect sunlight. Of course all these cells are placed beside each other and are connected, thereby creating the momentum of energy flow.
When light from the sun hits these cells, they generate a kinetic charge. This energy isn’t electricity yet, but it is ultimately converted into useable energy once a current flow is generated. This current is then converted by an inverter into the same power we use to power our homes.
A sturdy frame and installation benefits
But are you more interested in how these solar panels are fitted onto the roof of a home or business? Some ingenious systems have been developed in order to accommodate unconventional solar system installations. For now, we’ll just look at normal methods.
The first thing to consider is that most solar panels will be installed onto the roof of a building. But different roofs are built at different angles—and some are shaped unconventionally. It is therefore important that solar panels accommodate all kinds of installation challenges.
For this reason, individual mounts are used. These mounts are like brackets which are fitted to the roof prior to the panel being placed. They are fastened with large bolts to ensure sturdiness, after which the solar panel is then fitted.
It goes without saying that solar panels must be completely weather proof. This is especially true in South Africa where we have hot sun, lots of rain, and of course hail storms. The bottom part of our country is also known for its strong winds. So how are solar panels protected from these elements?
A thick type of glass is used to cover the insides of the solar panel. This glass is super tough and cannot be easily broken. Even large hail storms will not crack or break the exterior of a panel. This glass also provides great protection from hot sun while letting the sunlight in to do its job on the cells. Rain won’t get through to the inside either because the glass is properly sealed against the metal frame.
For windy conditions, the installer relies on sturdy brackets. As mentioned, these are fastened onto the roof with strong bolts. Strong winds are not likely to move these panels unless the roof itself is compromised.
Different kinds of panels and their efficiencies
The silicon components discussed here are used for conventional solar panels. But it’s worth mentioning that other materials are sometimes used to increase efficiency. As technology advances in this area, better methods are being found to enhance the functionality of solar panels. But cost must also be taken into account. So to date, the solar panels available in South Africa are the most efficient and affordable in the world.