Everyone has heard of a solar panel, but do you know what it really is? We dive into how a solar panel generates electricity, can solar panels be recycled, and even if solar panels are worth it.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, usually fitted to the roof, convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. They do this with smaller units of a panel known as solar cells. These solar cells are generally made up of a silicon layer sandwiched between two conductive layers. Photons from the sun detach electrons from the silicon bonds, and the energy created from this mechanism is captured in the form of DC electricity.
The DC electricity generated is converted into alternating current (AC) via the inverter (generally accessible at ground level, often located inside the garage). The converted electricity (AC) is now suitable for consumption by your home’s appliances.
Solar is a great way to reduce your electricity costs. The simplest way of looking at it is that the savings you will make need to be greater than the cost of the system itself. Most systems will pay themselves off within four to six years for a household that uses an average amount of electricity.
Solar systems are increasingly being viewed as an asset and something that adds value to a home. Some of our customers have expressed wanting to add a solar system in during a renovation, but it isn’t at the top of the priority list. An important factor to remember: unlike a bathroom renovation or new coat of paint, solar systems pay immediate dividends from the day of install.
This question is answered on a case-by-case basis, as it really depends on your usage and needs. Although solar batteries have come down in price by 90% over the past five years and this trend is expected to continue, solar batteries are quite a large expense.
For those only using power outside of the generation window (when the sun is up) a solar battery might be most appropriate as it means you can store the electricity generated for later use such as at night or on overcast days. If you have a solar system without a battery, the additional electricity generated will feed back into the grid. Currently, the solar feed-in-tariff rates are pretty meagre so storage for personal use is generally the recommended option.
Unfortunately this answer is not a simple one. There are currently a number of companies that are working on solutions for the growing number of broken and out-of-service panels globally. There are also a number of installers who offer recycling services, but their process is dubious and opaque.
If the recycling of panels is important to you, it’s best to consider better quality panels over a cheaper, lower quality panel system. This means that they’ll last longer and reduce the need for replacing and recycling. We cannot say with the utmost certainty, but one can be fairly confident that within the next 10-15 years a solution will be developed as the need for recycling of solar panels burgeons.
The short answer is this: the more electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as solar, the less thermal coal that needs to be dug up and burned in order to generate electricity.
The slightly longer answer is that it’s better in a number of ways for the environment. The current model of shipping power through wires on poles from far away power plants is rather inefficient. Approximately 10% of power generated is lost in this process, known as “transmission loss”. One of the largest factors is the distance the power has to travel. If the generation site is far away from where it is being used, the voltage needs to be higher for the electricity to be carried. With a higher voltage comes greater opportunity for losses via heat. The National Energy Market has one of the longest poles and wires networks in the world, suggesting that closer generation sites (i.e. your roof) is the most efficient, compounding the environmental benefits for a solar system. Less thermal coal electricity and less wasted electricity – it’s a win-win!
Currently, only one manufacturer produces commercially-available panels in Australia: Tindo Solar.
This isn’t all bad news. UNSW has one of the world’s leading research facilities into solar technology and there are a number of solar start-ups looking to produce panels here in Australia also, namely Sundrive.
As growing interest in both solar panels and Australian made solar panels grows, however, there is likely to be more manufacturers looking to produce panels locally to meet this demand in the near future.
This really depends on your metric – whether you consider efficiency, best bang-for-your-buck, whether it’s made in Australia, or how long it lasts. These kinds of questions are best left up to professionals to answer, and is something you can speak with one of our solar designers about. They are best suited to make solar panel and inverter recommendations based on your specific needs, meaning you get what is best for you.
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You’ve almost definitely seen one, you might even have one in your house right now. Those ‘energy rating’ stickers. You get the gist of what they are, but what do they really mean and should you be paying more attention to them?
Speak with one of our friendly representatives to help us understand your needs and budget so we can design your system for you.