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What are Solar Panels, and How Do They Work?

Updated on December 16, 2014

Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, and the process they use is actually quite simple. The more sunlight that hits a panel, the more electricity it will produce. Basically the sun’s light is made up of protons. When the sunlight passes through the solar panels, the protons react with electrons contained within materials inside the solar panel and electricity is produced.


Inside a Solar Panel

The inside of a solar panel contains a series of chemical sandwiches known as Photovoltaic cells. Each sandwiches directed into the chemical sandwiches inside the solar panels, a chemical reaction occurs that is transferred form one sandwich to another. This reaction creates an electric current, which is then converted into a type of energy which can be used to power the equipment and appliances in your home. A single photovoltaic cell produces approximately a half volt of electrical output. When 36 cells are connected in a series, a module is created which produces 18 volts. Another word for module is panel.

Each solar panel contains a number of interconnected photovoltaic sells which are housed in a finished product. A typical module (solar panel) measures around 2.5 ft. wide by 5 feet long. They are usually bluish or black in color, and the frames are generally constructed out of aluminum. The frames can either r be left in their natural aluminum finish or painted black, though most homeowners choose black as the panels then blend in better with whatever color tiles or shingles are on the roof.

A wide range of voltage and current outputs can be achieved according to how the solar panels are connected together. The larger the surface of the panel, the more electricity it will produce, as it will be able to absorb more sunlight. Solar panels are generally rectangular in shape and come in a variety of sizes, depending on the size of the roof or area where they will be housed, and the amount of electricity required. A typical residential solar panel produces around 200 watts of power. Basically photovoltaic cells are linked together to produce essentially what are solar panels.

How Photovoltaic Solar Panels Work


How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

How long do solar panels last” is often one of the first questions that solar energy system contractors are asked. There is no simple, short answer to the question, as there are many variables to consider. The make of your panels, the type of panel, your geographic location, climate, and where they will be located all factor into the equation. There are solar panels that are still in operation after being installed in the 1970’s. These were some of the first panels developed, and technology since has only made them better.

Most modern manufacturers offer a 25 year warranty on solar panels, but often they can last much longer. Under optimum conditions that figure could almost double, but that is also dependent on the quality of materials used by an individual manufacturer. Inside each solar panel is a series of photovoltaic cells. These are basically semi conductors composed of silicon, boron, and phosphorus as well as some metals. The quality of those materials and how they are manufactured will also play apart in a panel’s longevity.

Your geographic location and climate probably plays a larger role in anything when considering how long do solar panels last. Don’t get climate confused with weather. Weather is the conditions for a day; climate is the cumulative weather conditions over a substantial period of time. Though a lot of sun will help you produce lots of electricity, it will also cause a bit more wear and tear on your solar hardware. Rain in areas with lots of pollution will be acidic, and so cause corrosion on fittings and panel frames.

If you live in such an area, don’t let that discourage you from haven solar panels installed. A bit of regular maintenance can counter those effects quite easily. That can be as simple as hosing your panels off once or twice a week, which will also keep them free from dust and other debris which can also hinder output production. If you live in an area that is susceptible to high winds, you’ll need to take extra precautions to make sure your panels are adequately insured. Of course winter brings its own set of problems, and you’ll have to keep your panels clear of snow to avoid deterioration, and to keep output up.

Generally maintenance is quite simple, and a lifespan of 25 years or more is not unreasonable to expect. The professionalism with which you have them installed, and how well you maintain them will dictate how long your solar panels will last. Take care of them and they’ll take care of you.


9 Reasons Why Solar Energy is Soaring

The demand for fossil fuels in the United States is beginning to exceed the available supply. Even if any found new reserves exceed expectations or new technology significantly improves oil and gas recovery, supply and demand will become unbalanced. But that is only one of the reasons why many homeowners are converting to solar power. Solar power is versatile and can be used in a number of different ways. Each has its own complexity and costs, but in the end the benefits are indisputable. Following are nine applications of solar power that are contributing to its increasing popularity.

  1. Generating Electricity for General Usage: You can actually install a solar energy system that will inevitably reduce tour electricity bill to zero. It will require a significant initial investment, but it will end up saving you loads of cash, and it’s good for the environment. Running a household is one of the most popular uses of solar energy, and solar power systems installation is growing at a rate of 25% or more per year.

  2. Cooking: There are a few easy to build solar powered ovens and stoves that can be constructed so that you can cook using the sun’s energy. The technology is there, you are only limited by your imagination!

  3. Space Heating: Strategically placed blinds, awnings, sunrooms, and skylights and such can help you to heat your home naturally.

  4. Heating Water: Heating the domestic water supply is another popular application of solar energy. Many homeowners have sun-warmed water pumped through compatible plumbing systems to supply their homes, and often require no electrical pumps or other moving parts to do so.

  5. Pumping Water: There are solar systems that are designed so that you can slowly pump water into a tank when the sun is shining, and then draw on it later. The tanks are also designed to absorb sunlight, thus heating the water naturally and reducing the power load on any domestic water heaters in the house.

  6. Heating of Swimming Pools: Many homeowners who have a swimming pool keep it covered with a solar blanket that heats it efficiently and cheaply. There are also hot water heating panels that can be installed on the roof of your house or garage to heat the water in your pool year round.

  7. Landscape Lighting: Solar powered garden and landscaping lights are a very effective way to light your grounds at night. Modern technology has advanced to the point where such lights are efficient and attractive, so there is no need to use expensive lighting powered by the utility companies anymore. In fact, solar lighting is the most widely used solar technology, and there is virtually no drawback to using it.

  8. Indoor Lighting: There are a number of effective solar lighting systems for inside the home that use LED (light emitting diodes) technology. These small electronic lights use little current, and entire rooms in your house can be lit using them in combination with a small off-grid solar system connected to a battery. The battery is charged during the day so that there is enough juice to do the job at night.

  9. Powering Remote Dwellings: An entire holiday or camping cabin, RV or boat can be powered by solar energy, a niche in which technology continues to develop and solar usage increases.


Solar power is produced domestically, and every kilowatt hour produced reduces the demand for foreign oil by the same amount. As you can see from the above nine applications, you can install a system to power your entire household, or just an aspect of it. Every little bit helps; not just your wallet, but the environment as well.

Would You Consider Solar Power a Good Form of Alternative Energy?

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