What is a solar panel system?
A solar panel system is an installation designed to generate solar power, that is, energy that comes from the sun in the form of light and becomes electricity that can be used in the human consumption network.
Also known as photovoltaic systems, these are becoming more and more popular due to the growing interest and need to produce clean, sustainable electricity as an alternative to the technologies that have dominated the electricity industry so far.
How is a solar panel system put together?
Photovoltaic systems are rigorously designed so that all of their parts can offer maximum performance in terms of production, supply, storage, and transmission of electrical energy. These setups vary depending on the energy demand that the system will have, the availability of the solar resource, the space available, and the installation budget. Devices commonly found include:
- Photovoltaic modules: the solar panels themselves. These devices have several rows of photovoltaic cells capable of transforming radiation into electricity. The cells that make up the solar panels are manufactured with semiconductor materials that release electrons when receiving solar radiation. Most of the time, crystalline silicon is used. This material is modified by incorporating certain elements to create two different types of semiconductors inside the same cell, one with a negative charge and the other with a positive charge. These two types of semiconductors interact with each other. When receiving sunlight, the negative semiconductor’s free electrons increase and, in turn, so does the potential difference it has with the positive semiconductor, which generates an electric current.
- Inverter: the electricity produced by photovoltaic panels has a direct current (CC in Spanish and DC in English), while most electrical appliances and conventional electricity systems work with alternating current (CA in Spanish and AC in English). The inverter makes it possible to convert direct current into alternating current in order to be used.
- Mounting structures: these are the supports on which the solar panels are installed to be fixed to different surfaces such as roofs, building facades, or areas of land. The structures have standard measurements that match the photovoltaic modules and are usually made of aluminum, as this is a lightweight, weather-resistant material.
- Wiring: this allows the transfer of electricity between solar panels, the inverter, and other auxiliary devices, as well as the power grid and energy storage equipment. The wiring connects the entire solar panel system.
- Storage system: while not necessary, solar panel systems usually include an energy storage system with rechargeable batteries that makes it possible to save any excess electricity generated for later use when the sun is not available, such as at night or on cloudy days. The storage batteries used for this purpose may be lithium-ion, monoblock, AGM batteries, or stationary batteries.
- Two-way meter: if the solar panel system is connected to an electricity grid, this component is used to determine how much energy is produced and consumed autonomously and how much goes into the grid. There are electricity companies that offer financial compensation to users who contribute electricity to the grid.
- Solar trackers: these devices direct the angle of the solar panels depending on the Sun’s position in the sky in order to achieve maximum performance during the time that sunlight is available.
What applications do solar panel systems have?
Photovoltaic systems have a range of common uses, from modest assemblies with a small number of solar panels to cover specific needs for devices at remote sites, to facilities intended to cover the demand for housing or industrial estates and huge plants for renewable energy generation. Another one of the most important uses that solar panel systems have is in space, as many of the artificial satellites, probes, and other vehicles that we’ve launched into space have solar panel systems in order to operate.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of solar panel systems?
- They harness the largest source of renewable energy available on the planet.
- They offer energy autonomy.
- They increase the value of properties.
- They produce clean energy.
- They require little maintenance.
- The financial savings that their use entails make them amortizable over time.
- The initial costs are high, though technological advances and market developments have been reducing them considerably.
- Their efficiency depends on the availability of sunlight. On cloudy days, the generation capacity can drop significantly. At night, the storage system or the use of another energy source becomes necessary.