Solar Energy Basics

All the Solar Energy Basics to Go Renewable

Solar energy is a great energy source to power homes, businesses, and electric vehicles. As of late, more and more people are showing interest in solar energy which stems from long-term savings, low-maintenance costs, environmental benefits, and more. 

Energy developers and utilities use solar PV systems and concentrating solar power technologies to produce electricity on a massive scale to power cities and small towns. Think of going solar? In this article, let’s talk about solar energy basics, trends worthy of tuning in, and simple steps to kickstart your way of going solar. Read on.

Solar Energy Basics: How do Solar Panels Work?

How do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels help reduce the cost of electricity by taking advantage of sunlight (light energy) and heat (thermal). Solar power collected from these cells can be stored using a storage battery of different capacities to back up energy for nighttime and during power outages.

Solar panels are made from silicon or semiconductor materials installed in a metal panel frame with a glass casing, aka lattice, and then placed as a solar array. The setup serves as the organized structure that supports the conversion through an inverter to produce renewable energy and power electronics.

These devices also contribute to a resilient electrical grid, lower energy bills, and greatly help create jobs for people—especially in countries like Australia.

What is a photovoltaic (PV) cell?

A photovoltaic (PV) cell is an energy-harvesting tool that converts sunlight and head into electricity through the “photovoltaic effect”. PV cells use semiconductors to interact with incoming photons (Sun) to generate an electric current.

There are 3 types of solar PV cells: monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, and thin film (TF), which is the least common. Further explanation below:

Monocrystalline (mono) cells

  • Made of single, pure silicon crystal, resulting in a uniform structure
  • Highest solar cell efficiency (around 20-24%) due to the pure, ordered structure, converting more sunlight to electricity. Performs slightly better in low-light conditions
  • Generally the most expensive option

Polycrystalline (poly) cells

  • Made of melted and crystallized silicon fragments, forming a patchwork structure with multiple crystal grains 
  • The lower efficiency of around 15-17% compared to mono due to the mixed crystal structure Polycrystalline cells perform better in high heat due to a lower temperature coefficient
  • Less expensive than mono due to the simpler manufacturing process

Thi¢n-film (TF) cells

  • Made of thin layers of various materials like amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride (CdTe), or copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) deposited on a substrate like glass or plastic
  • Lowest efficiency of only 5-12% (or less). Performs well in diffused light conditions
  • The most affordable but may have a lower lifespan and require more space for the same energy output

Other considerations to be taken when buying solar panels

  • Space — mono and poly panels are typically more space-efficient due to their higher efficiency since you’ll need fewer panels to achieve your efficiency requirement.
  • Durability TF panels may be slightly more susceptible to degradation long-term, however, mono and poly are the most durable
  • Environmental impact  manufacturing all cell types has cost and environmental considerations (carbon footprint and excessive use of resources to manufacture), but improvements are constantly being made for sustainable practices

Concentrating Solar-thermal Power Basics

Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) is a technology that captures solar energy and converts it into heat at high temperatures which will be used to generate electricity. How CSPs work is they use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight toward the receiver’s liquid. 

Thermal energy generated by CSP is used to spin a turbine or power an engine to generate electricity and power industrial applications, like desalination, chemical production, and mineral processing.

Benefits of Using Solar Panels

Benefits of Using Solar Panels

Here are the 5 main benefits of using solar panels for your home, business, and vehicles:

Benefit 1: Solar panels are increasingly affordable

Solar panels aren’t particularly new to the market. Existing changes and improvements are constantly being pushed to speed up production, and conveniently source stable materials and government incentives exist to subsidize households and businesses with solar PV systems installed, thus lowering the overall cost. This is also to keep up with the demand for clean and renewable energy, even though upfront costs are still considerably hefty.

Benefit 2: You can save money by going solar

Generating your clean and renewable electricity with solar panels means relying less on buying power from the grid, potentially minimizing a household’s monthly power by up to 100% (possible with a big-capacity storage battery). The amount you save depends on factors like how much electricity your household requires, the system size, and local electricity rates.

Benefit 3: You can keep the lights on when the grid goes down

Solar panels paired with a battery storage system can provide backup power during a power outage. It can also maintain essential appliances and light when the grid is down.

Benefit 4: Solar increases the value of your home

Homes with solar panels tend to sell faster and for a higher price compared to homes without. Solar panels are valuable upgrades, demonstrating energy efficiency and cost-saving potential.

And contrary to popular belief, solar panels last long. A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory stated that over 75% of panels outperformed their warranty.

Benefit 5: Solar systems work in a variety of climates

While sunshine is ideal, solar panels can still generate electricity on days with poor sunlight reception. The latest tech allows panels to perform well in dynamic climates. Now, panels can also benefit from types of indirect sunlight.

About Australia’s Push for Renewable Energy

Australia’s National Government is campaigning for the “Rewiring the Nation” program and investing a A$20 billion budget to modernize the country’s electricity grid and deliver new and upgraded transmission infrastructure.

The program’s purpose is to update transmission lines to deliver affordable, clean, reliable renewable energy to cities, towns, and regional communities and achieve Australia’s emissions reduction targets of 43% by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. It is a centerpiece of the Australian Government’s Powering Australia plan towards renewable energy to replace legacy energy assets like coal-fired power stations, which are increasingly unreliable and planned to phase out soon. [Source: DCCEEW

Next recommended reading: Solar Panel Rebates in Australia (Full Guide)

Next-gen panel efficiency with perovskites-on-silicon

Traditional silicon panels are only reaching efficiencies towards 24%, with newer materials like perovskites-on-silicon promising to reach 30%. A significant leap in capturing sunlight and converting it into electricity, requiring fewer panels to achieve the same energy output. [Source

Better and smarter energy storage solutions

Advancements in lithium-ion and solid-state batteries will enable better storage of excess solar energy, allowing homeowners to utilize solar power 24/7. Additionally, the global energy storage market is predicted to reach $571.4 billion by 2028, with significant growth in solar-integrated battery systems. [Source]

Scaling up for more gigawatts (GW)

Global renewable power capacity is expected to grow to 7 300 GW over the 2023-28. Both solar and wind will account for 95% of the expansion to become the largest power source by early 2025. Despite all the unprecedented growth from the previous year, the world needs to go further to triple capacity by 2030, which countries agreed to do. [Source]

Remote communities go off-grid

2% of Australia’s population still lacks full access to electricity, with solar microgrids offering a viable solution, regional and remote communities will experience their share of benefits from Australia’s transition to clean and renewable energy. [Source]

AI revolutionizes solar energy operations

AI is optimizing solar panel manufacturing, installation, and maintenance. It can also analyze vast data sets to predict performance, identify potential issues, and maximize energy production. The AI market in the renewable energy sector is expected to reach $7.4 billion by 2027. [Source]

Double-sided (bifacial) solar panels 

Double-sided solar panels can generate up to 20%-30% more energy than traditional single-sided panels in ideal conditions. These innovative panels capture sunlight from both sides, maximizing energy generation, particularly in areas with reflective surfaces like snow. [Source]

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) integration

The global V2G market is expected to reach $59 billion by 2030, driven by the increasing adoption of electric vehicles as they become more prevalent. V2G technology will allow them to act as energy storage units for solar power and even feed excess energy back into the grid during peak demand periods.

The transportation sector is making its share of the effort to reduce its carbon emissions. In 2022, 14% of all cars sold were electric, while in 2020 it was only 5%. [Source]

5 steps to start your solar energy home

Here’s a simple 5-step guide on converting a home into solar.

Step 1. Calculate your power load

Determine how much energy your household’s normal energy usage. This will help you size your solar power system appropriately to meet your energy requirements. Many online tools and resources can help you calculate your power load. You can use Luminous for this step. 

Step 2. Gather solar power key components

This involves acquiring all the necessary equipment for your solar system. The components must include the following:

  • Solar panel/s
  • Mounting system (also known as “feet”)
  • Solar inverter — converts the DC (direct current) electricity produced by the panels into AC (alternating current). Inverter is optional, but better when you have it
  • DC switch — it prevents current flow and damage to equipment in the event of a fault, it will also allow safe servicing and maintenance of your system
  • Charge controller — this component regulates the flow of electricity from the panels to the storage battery (if using one)
  • Storage battery (optional) — a (big-capacity) storage battery is essential if you wish to go completely off-grid, or partially off-grid

Step 3. Set up the inverter (optional)

An inverter is necessary if you plan to use solar energy directly in your home. If you have a storage battery system for backup power, you’ll likely need an inverter to convert the stored DC battery power to usable AC power.

Step 4. Fix the solar panels on your roof, or your yard

  • Roof mounting — Professional installation is highly recommended for safety reasons and to ensure optimal performance. If you’re still set on DIY, ensure you have the proper safety equipment and knowledge for working on your roof
  • Ground (yard) mounting — This is an option if your roof isn’t suitable for panels. A sturdy ground-level mounting structure can hold the panels at the correct angle for maximum sun exposure

Step 5. Connect the solar panels to a storage battery (optional)

A storage battery system stores excess solar energy generated during the day for use at night or during power outages. Connecting the panels to the battery requires proper wiring and configuration according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: Adding a battery system increases the complexity of your setup. Carefully consider your needs and DIY expertise before doing this step.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are recurring questions regarding solar energy basics and solar cells.

How many solar panels and how much watts to run a house?

On average, it takes around (17) 400-watt solar panels to power a home. It may vary between 15 to 20 (more or less) based on how much sun the panels receive, the type of panels used, and how much power the home requires and stores.

What is solar energy in simple words?

Solar energy is the radiation from the sun capable of producing heat, causing chemical reactions, and generating electricity. [Source] As for solar power coming from solar PV systems, it’s as described earlier in this blog. Sunlight hits the panels, atoms in the panel react, and electricity is generated from that reaction and then converted into usable energy to power homes, electronics, and vehicles. 

What is the basis of solar energy?

When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.

Can I get financing on a solar for my home?

Yes, through solar finance in Australia and via other means. There are many ways to finance your solar like green loans and personal loans, but it’s best to consult a solar installer or financial advisor first to discuss your situation and find a suitable financing option—since they’re the best people to go to if you’re looking to give your home an add-on. 

Final thoughts

The goal of solar panel systems is to maximize the use of free energy resources while minimizing carbon emissions and further damage to the world while also minimizing complete dependence on solar companies for power, thus lowering your electric bill. 

The initial costs for solar PV installation aren’t cheap but it’s a great acquisition with high long-term ROI. Solar panels are more accessible now than ever as tech advancements paved the way for a greener option to be made available to the public. *Just a reminder that this is only the first step, but it’s not that different once you have your unit installed. 

If you’re interested in solar power systems but don’t want to do it alone, our team of experts is here to help. Get a quote today.


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