With the environment deteriorating quickly each and every day, global warming is on the rise. The Earth has been destroyed to a point where Mother Nature is now fighting back and humans are realising this just now. Which is why any people across the world are now giving priority to sustainable living methods and trying to reduce waste and plastic as much as they can. While sustainable living methods can be quite expensive, they are still beneficial for the long term and a great investment. One method or way of sustainable living is the solar panel which almost every one may have heard of till now. This article will delve deeper into what solar energy is, how solar panels work, why you should use them and the latest solar panel technology: flexible solar panels.
Since solar energy is available on a very wide scale, it is mainly because of this reason which makes solar energy a much better source of electricity. The sun is an infinite source of energy and all you have to do is install solar panels on the roof of your house which will harvest the energy from the sunlight and provide electricity. Moreover since the demand for solar electricity keeps increasing day by day, the technology for harvesting solar energy has become more efficient, accessible and up to date as well.
What is Solar Energy?
Simply put and as already mentioned, solar energy is derived from natural sunlight. The solar panels which capture the sunlight generate it into electricity. You can install solar panels almost anywhere, on the roof of your house, your workplace, your office, etc. Because the sun is a natural nuclear reactor, it releases packets of energy called photons. The photons travel from the sun to the earth for about 93 million miles at a recorded time of 8.5 minutes. This means that every hour, the sun emits photons in such a great amount that the solar energy which can be generated from them would be enough to satisfy electricity needs globally without any cuts or load shedding problems.
Only five-tenths of one percent of the energy used in the United States accounts for photovoltaic energy. However with the increasing demand for solar energy and sustainable methods of living, new technology is being made so that more and more solar energy can be harvested. Apart from the updated technology, solar panel manufacturing companies are making sure that the solar panels are affordable to most people. A report from the International Energy Agency in 2017 showed that the demand and consumption of solar energy has grown as much as to surpass the consumption and demand for all other types of energy sources. It is one of the fastest growing sources of power and soon enough, the whole world will be enjoying the benefits of solar energy.
What are Flexible Solar Panels?
With solar energy demand and consumption on the rise, new solar energy technology is being released every year. A new solar energy technology released is the Flexible solar panels.
A normal monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel is made up of silicone pieces or blocks which are 200 micrometer thick. To make a flexible solar panel, the silicone blocks must be thinner than 200 micrometer. They should be thinner than a human hair to be flexible enough which is why the silicone blocks are sliced to only a few micrometers of width. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has currently found out about an organic material to add in solar cells. Since solar cells are made up of silicone material mostly, electrodes of graphene have been found to be a much more organic material to substitute silicone with. Currently the material used for solar panels is quite brittle and not flexible. However, graphene with its transparent and easily malleable gives more flexibility and sturdiness to solar panels.
Thin film panels are a type of flexible solar panels which are currently accessible to consumers. Thin film solar panels are basically made with material which is over more than a hundred times thinner than your average standard silicone based solar panels. The thin film panels are flexible, durable, efficient and what not.
Pros and Cons of Flexible Solar Panels
- One of the main advantages of installing flexible solar panels is that they can fit for almost any solar energy based project. So, for example, if your roof has soon structural problems and you can’t afford to install standard silicone based solar panels, then flexible solar panels are your best bet. This is because they are small, flexible and durable and won’t destroy the structural integrity of your roof.
- Installing flexible solar panels will reduce installation costs. Since they are lightweight, these flexible solar panels are easily transportable and can be placed anywhere. Hence, they require less labour and reduce installation costs.
- The main disappointment from flexible solar panels is their reduced efficiency. While the efficiency of traditional solar panels lies between 17 to 20 percent, flexible solar panel efficiency lies between 12 to 13 percent. This means that you will need more flexible solar panels to produce the same amount of electricity as a standard solar panel.
- Flexible solar panels are much suited to small areas which do not require much energy like SUV cars. Due to their lightweight structure, there may be wear and tear on the top of the roof. Moreover since more flexible solar panels are required to produce the same amount of energy as that of a standard solar panel, that may be a problem for people who have limited roof space.
The Best Flexible Solar Panels 2019
Since we have already covered what a flexible solar panel is and its pros and cons, it is time to delve into the different types of flexible solar panels. These solar panels are made up of up to date solar technology and all of them have different features, suitable for each and every requirement.
1. Suaoki 100 Watt 12 V Flexible Solar Panel with Sun Power Cells
What makes this kind of flexible solar panel the best is the fact that it uses one of the most sought out and reliable solar power technology: the Sun Power Cells. Sun power cells are one of the best and one of the most high quality solar cells available in the solar technology market. They have an efficiency percentage of 23 to 24%, much higher than your standard solar power panels. In case there is excess energy produced, an internal blocking diode prevents the waste of energy. Weighing less than 5lbs, these panels are portable and semi flexible. Moreover, installing then is quite easy.
2. AllPowers 100 Watt 12V Solar Panel
These panels are semi flexible with the high conversion efficiency modules in these solar panels made of Sun Power. These panels are also quite sturdy, making them referable to be used on rugged or irregular surfaces. An 18 month warrantee is also included.
3. HQST 100 Watt 12v Solar Panel
This type of solar panel is sturdier than the two already mentioned and is made up of high conversion efficiency modules. These solar panels are made up of iron tempered glass which is anti-reflective and has high transparency. Moreover, because it is made out of sturdy and strong material, it can withstand the impact and pressure of strong gusts of wind (2400Pa) and snow loads (5400 Pa). On the panel, there are holes which have already been drilled so as to make the installation prices easier. Moreover, customers can use it with different mounting systems, whichever is preferred. These panels have the ability to last longer than standard solar panels as their frame is made out of aluminum which is resistant from corrosion. It has 25 years’ worth of power output warranty and 5 years’ worth of craftsmanship and material warranty.
4. Renogy 100 watts 12 V Solar Panel
These solar panels are quite sturdy as well. The structure is of the panels is quite strong and the wires and photovoltaic cells are tightly sealed and attached. The cables are all bunched up and covered with protective wiring. However if you stand in front of the panel and block the sunlight, you will notice a change in the electricity.
5. ACOPOWR 120W Solar Panel with 12V Charger
With conversion energy of up to 25% percent, this panel has monocrystalline cells. It is lightweight and easy to install. Moreover the battery can be charged and used whenever.
Pros and Cons of Using Solar Energy
- Solar energy is a renewable source of energy which means that it will never run out and will always be available in an abundant amount. The sun shines everywhere, which is why every person is suggested to take advantage of solar panels and solar energy.
- Your electricity costs and bills reduce drastically. This is because there is no monopoly on sunlight, no one owns the sun. With solar panels, you only have to pay once for the solar panels and for the rest of your life you get to be in control of your electricity because you are the one who generates it. You even get to receive credits if your solar panels produce more energy than is required.
- The maintenance costs for solar panels is also quite low. Every few 5 to 10 years you will have to change your inverter since it will work constantly every day and night to provide electricity. The cables and isolators need to be maintained and cleaned every once in a while. However the maintenance costs still remain quite low.
- The cost of installing solar panels is quite high. You have to pay for the inverter, the cables, the panels, the wiring and installation and what not.
- While you can store excess solar energy in batteries or they can be charged if you want to use electricity on days when the sun will not show up, batteries tend to be very expensive.
- Solar energy generation depends on the weather. If the sun doesn’t show up on a particular day, there will be less electricity generated unless you have charged batteries or excess solar energy in the solar cells.
How Does a Solar Panel Work?
In simple words, solar panels help to produce energy by allowing the little particles of light (or photons) to separate the electrons from the atoms. Once the electrons are separated, they encourage electricity to be generated. The solar panels usually contains small cells called photovoltaic cells. The word photovoltaic simply means that it converts sunlight into usable electricity. A great number of these photovoltaic cells are linked and fixed together to form one solar panel. Every photovoltaic cell on the solar panel is made up of two sides of semi conducting material. The semi conducting material is almost always silicon, since silicone is also preferred to be used in microelectronics as well.
For the solar panels to work, the photovoltaic cells need to create an electric field first. Like a magnetic field is created due to two opposite poles, same is the case with the photovoltaic cells. However since there are no opposite poles involved in the photovoltaic cells, manufacturers often mix or ‘dope’ the silicone which is attached to the two sides of the photovoltaic cells. The silicone then gives each side a negative or a positive charge as they are attracted to each other.
Most manufacturers add phosphorus to the top layer which results in extra electrons being added to that part which will have a negative charge. Similarly at the bottom layer, boron is added which will have fewer electrons and a positive charge. So when the photons of the sun hit the photovoltaic plates and knock electrons loose from the atoms, the electric field formed at the junction of the silicone pushes away the electron from the silicone junction. However the photovoltaic cells are not the only element in solar panels responsible for producing electricity. A few other components of the solar panels use the electrons to turn them into energy which can be used.
Metal conductive plates are placed on the side of the photovoltaic cells. Their job is to transfer the knocked out electrons to the wires. As the electrons hit the wires, they then travel done the wire like electricity.
An improvement in design and efficiency
Researchers have now produced solar cells which are flexible and ultra-thin, thinner than paper and lighter than hair or paper. They are 1/100th the width of hair and extremely light like feathers, probably even much lighter. They have been experimented with and they can sit on top of a soap bubble without popping the bubble. However, just because the solar cells are light does not mean that they cannot compare in performance to glass based solar cells. In fact, they provide twice as much energy and are twice as efficient as the glass based solar cells. In a study carried out in 2016 and publish in the journal of Organic Electronics, researchers found that these flexible solar panels are capable of being integrated into architecture and as wearable electronics as well.
Other types of solar power technology also exist, for example solar thermal and concentrated solar power. However the function of each and every solar power technology is to produce energy from sunlight to either heat water or create electricity.
However, a few questions may come to your mind. ‘What if I’m not at home, what will happen to the solar energy generated then?’ Or, ‘how will I get electricity during the night time when there is no sunlight’. Sweat not, because you can still benefit from the net metering system in the solar panels. During day light hours, the solar panels produce enough energy that your home will still have electricity for 3 or more days if the sun doesn’t come out. The excess energy is fed back to the solar panels.
How to Install Solar Panels
Installing solar panels is not a DIY process. Even the most professional of electricians or technicians needs to be trained on how to install a solar panel, the fire and safety precautions to be taken and what not. If you generally want to know information on how to install solar panels, here are a few steps which help in installing solar panels:
- The first thing you should do is to find a solar installers. You can ask around, ask your friends or neighbours who have a solar panel installed. They will recommend a reliable solar panel installer who should be able to give you a free quote of how much it would cost and whether your house is eligible to have a solar panel installed. Your solar panel installer will ask you a bunch of questions, for example, your monthly and yearly electricity bills, the type of roof you have, whether you have shingles or bricks on your roof, whether your roof is flat or angled, etc. He will then advise you further and suggest you any solar financing options if they are applicable to you
- The solar panel installer will visit your house and evaluate it. He will then determine which solar panel, inverter, racking or other parts will go well with the type of roof you have. Your solar panel installer will also inspect your roof and your electrical grid to identify any problems. If, for example, you have problems with the electricity grid then they will suggest you to get it fixed or if there is a problem on the roof then they will suggest you to get it repaired. If the solar panel installer decides that your house is ready for the installation and is code compliant, they may start the process.
- Once your installer has the exact measurements, he will then move to the solar engineering and site design plan. The plan will be for the installers ease. It’ll basically include where to place the solar panels, which position to place the solar panels in, the wiring of the system and how it will be connected to the utility. They will make sure that the plan is compliant with safety and local fire department rules and regulations. The installer will then submit the plans and reports to your county departments and to your utility company. Since many cities and counties have different requirements of compliance and installation, make sure you hire an installer who is well versed with your city’s permitting department’s rules and regulations. The time it will take for your project to be approved will be one to three months. Your installer will keep you informed.
- The actual installation of the solar panels is the easiest part. You can even watch the solar installers install the panels. Make sure that if you have any pets or children then they are safely inside because there will be a lot of action. The whole process is quite enjoyable to watch. The solar panel is attached to the roof and the required electrical and monitoring system and wires are attached.
- Once the solar panel system is installed, your local county inspector will visit to check whether everything and process carried out was as planned and written in the granted permit. Depending on where you live the inspection process can take a few days or even a week. After all the requirements of your country and city departments are fulfilled and approved, your installers will turn on the solar panels and you will be able to produce clean and environmentally safe electricity.
So, this is pretty much all you need to know about solar panels. Are you looking to get them for yourself now? Let us know how your experience goes.