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    Solar panels: What are they & how do they work?

    Everything you need to know about installing this sustainable energy option

    Hannah | Oneflare

    How do solar panels work?

    A solar panel is a photovoltaic panel that absorbs light and heat from the sun and produces electricity from it for use in your home. The panel is usually made of silicone photovoltaic cells that are placed between plastic sheets and glass. There are three common panel options, monocrystaline, polycrystaline, and thin film. The most common is polycrystaline because it is an affordable solution and one that has good overall performance. The monocrystaline models are more efficient, but they cost more to install. The third option, a thin film, is useful for smaller scale projects and needs.

    Solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity. Houses use alternating current (AC) electricity so you’ll require an inverter to convert the DC power from the solar panels to the AC power that your home uses.

    Solar panels are a sustainable source of energy / Source: Jenson Electrical

    On-grid vs. off-grid systems

    An on-grid solar power system is connected to the electric company’s grid. Any extra electricity your solar panels generate that isn’t used by your home is sent to the electric company.

    An off-grid power system is not connected to the electric company’s grid. Instead, any excess energy created by your solar panels is stored in backup batteries that can be used to power your home during times that your solar panels are not creating enough energy.

    Choosing a solar panel

    The main factor to consider when purchasing a solar panel is wattage and size, which will generally be based on the size of your home and the amount of power you need. It is best to work directly with a local solar power professional to determine the specifics of your setup, as they have the experience to fit the right solar panel to your particulars.

    Wattage matters

    The most important factor to consider when sizing solar panels is the amount of wattage that can be generated. The number of watts the panel can output is often displayed on it. If a panel has a 200 watt capability, that means it will generate 200 watts of electricity per hour. But, keep in mind that is during peak sunlight conditions and at a temperature of at least 25 degrees Celsius.

    You will find that models come in a variety of different sizes. Some are very small at around 50 watts. Some are much larger, up to 230 watts. Some may generate even more than this. You will want to realise, though, that these ranges are based on optimal conditions. In most cases, you can expect a drop by about 15 percent in their overall performance since conditions will not be optimal all of the time.

    Size matters

    Aside from wattage, you also have to consider the actual size of the solar panel itself. The size is a factor because it will need to fit on the structure you have chosen for it. In most cases, the smaller the wattage is, the smaller the physical size of the panel will be, and of course the opposite is true: the larger the wattage, the larger the panel. Look for panels that are capable of producing enough power for your needs, but that also fit well on your roof space. You will need to ensure that the solar power system fits right now, but also think about what your needs may be in the long term. You may be able to expand the solar power system in the future. If you do expand later, you need to consider if you will need to remove all existing panels and start over or just extend what you have presently.

    Installing solar panels

    Solar panels need to be properly installed to work at their most efficient level. They can be installed on top of your home’s roof, on top of an outbuilding or on top of poles You should try to have them to placed on the south side of the roof so that they get the most sunlight. If possible, ensure they are angled to face towards the sun. If you have a pitched roof, this is easy to do. If you have a flat roof, you may need to install framing to provide for this necessary angle.

    Solar panels should be installed where they will receive the maximum amount of sunlight / Source: Hot Water Heroes Pty Ltd

    Consult a professional to get a right-sized, properly-designed, and properly-positioned solar panel system for your home. It should be large enough to generate enough electricity to make it worth the cost. Most solar panels systems can be completely installed and running in one day.

    Saving money with solar panels

    If the solar panels generate too much energy, creating an excess, you can sell that to the power company for extra cash. When you feed the power grid, the power company will pay you one of two ways:

    1. It can pay you a net feed tariff, which pays only for the excess energy generated or,
    2. It can pay a gross fee tariff, which pays for all the electricity the solar panels generate.

    Varying from region to region, the solar panel tariffs are guaranteed to be one or the other. This saves homeowners a great deal of money.

    Depending on the amount of electricity, your solar panels may reduce your need for traditional electricity to nothing, or very close to it. This could potentially save hundreds of dollars on your utilities bill just by eliminating your dependence on the main grid. As the cost of electricity rises, you can sit comfortably, collecting credits on your utility bill thanks to your solar panels. Those credits can be used for less-productive months, or you can have them paid out in cash.

    Contact local solar panel experts

    A sustainable choice

    One of the greatest benefits of solar panels is their contribution to the environment. Solar panels are much more earth friendly than burning coal, which is where most Australian electricity comes from. If you’re a heavy electricity user, it’s especially important to mitigate the damage of your use, such as releasing greenhouse gases and depleting fossil fuels, by installing solar panels.

    The solar panels use the power of the sun to generate electricity, placing almost no burden on the environment. The sun is renewable and readily available. Though manufacturing and disposing of the solar panels does have an impact, they are ultimately far superior to other methods.

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