What is a Solar Panel?
A solar panel is made up of a collection of cells know as photovoltaic cells. These make use of energy from the sun, generating electricity to supply homes, offices, schools and other buildings. The process by which the energy is converted to electricity is known as the photovoltaic effect: i.e. an electric current which occurs as a result of exposure to light and by using specific materials. The sun carries energy in the form of photons. The photons are subsequently absorbed by the panels to become part of the electrical circuit they contain, thus providing the required voltage for use as electricity.
Types of Panel
There are various forms of solar panel systems in use, some of which are as follows:
These are the most usual kind of panels used for homes and buildings. These panels are linked to the National Grid.
These are more common in remote buildings and are not reliant on being connected to the National Grid.
These panels are not attached to rooftops. Instead, they are usually mounted on poles or special stands. They are more commonly used in commercial rather than domestic situations.
How Exactly do the Panels Work?
Solar panels utilise solar energy (energy derived from the sun - solar meaning 'of the sun'). This type of energy is therefore obtained from a renewable source, which means the amount of electricity produced in this way is without limits. Generally, it's more usual to find a collection of panels spanning a roof area on a building, but just one solar panel can make a difference to some homes and buildings, depending on size and circumstance.
In some cases, the technology used in creating solar energy has been incorporated in the manufacture of some everyday objects. Calculators, laptops, backpacks, and even handbags, have had panels of various sizes fitted to them. But, although the humble calculator has been using solar energy for decades, the idea of regular use of these small panels overall is still in its infancy. Exactly how much electricity these small panels generate is variable, but depending on the types of panel used, the supply of electricity from an assembly of solar panels on the roof of a building could last (uninterrupted) for upwards of 25 years. Of course, certain maintenance checks will need to be carried out, but because solar panels contain no moving parts, they are therefore less subject to breakdown (and wear and tear) and require minimal maintenance and/or repair work.
The Long Term Value of Solar Panels
As the energy produced by solar panels is renewable, this brings with it the added satisfaction of knowing that the energy used is clean and produces no adverse effects to the environment - a social ideal that more and more people are looking to achieve in terms of their overall energy requirements. But, perhaps the most common benefit of fitting solar panels is that once you've covered your initial outlay for the purchase of the panels, together with any costs incurred for fitting the panels, the feeling of knowing that you no longer face huge electricity bills can be a great comfort. Moreover, the cost of solar panels is coming down, and with prices (on average) starting from as little as £5k - £7k, the switch to solar energy looks set to increase over time.