Solar panels are all the rage these days, but are they really worth investing in? Keep on reading to find out.
The History of Solar Panels
The photovoltaic effect theory was first discovered by a French physicist, Edmond Becquerel, in 1839 as he stumbled upon it while experimenting with metal electrodes. This was the first stepping stone in the field of solar energy, and work in this area began soon after. Slow and steady advancements were made in this domain over the next few years, but it wasn’t until 1904 that Albert Einstein was able to describe the phenomena. The first monocrystalline solar cell was made in 1941, and only a few years later, in 1951, more efficient germanium solar cells were made.
Nonetheless, the credit for discovering the photovoltaic effect goes to Edmond Becquerel as if he had not stumbled upon this phenomena during his experiment, we might not be reading this article!
What Are Solar Panels?
The Sun is the largest and the oldest energy source we have had on this planet. For the past 4 and a half billion years, the Sun has been a pivotal part of our lives, and it is expected to retain this place for the next 5 billion years until it dies. From allowing plant growth to strengthening our bones, it serves us in a number of ways, but the most important thing it does is to give us the ability to power up our homes in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. The energy that can be generated from the sunlight that falls on the Earth’s surface is 1000 times more than the current annual global energy needs, and this is where solar panels come in.
In layman terms, solar panels absorb sunlight and use it to generate electricity. The basic building block of these panels are solar photovoltaic cells that are connected to form solar arrays. A number of these arrays are connected in a series or parallel arrangement (or a combination of the two) to form solar panels.
These PV cells consist of different layers, each with the purpose of generating, collecting, and transmitting electricity. The most important layer, however, is the semiconductor layer, which is generally made of silicon doped with different materials to bring about the desirable intrinsic material properties and form p-type or n-type silicon. When the p-type and n-type material are connected, a p-n junction is formed between them. This is the region where energy from the sunlight is used to generate electricity.
Sunlight consists of a spectrum of wavelengths, and each of these has different energy associated with them. So, in essence, the energy from sunlight can be grouped in small packets of energy called photons. When a photon of specific energy falls on the solar cell, it can generate a pair of positive and negative charge (called a hole-electron pair). This is called the photovoltaic effect, meaning electricity generation from light, and forms the basis of how solar panels work.
Types of Solar Panels
There are multiple types of solar panels available in the market, but the most common ones for rooftop and ground-based installations are as follows:
Crystalline Silicon Solar Panels
Crystalline solar panels are the most popular ones that are used for generating electricity. These panels consist of small blue or black photovoltaic cells connected in a series arrangement to increase the total voltage output. Crystalline silicon solar cells are further divided into 2 categories: polycrystalline and monocrystalline, the later ones being more effective.
Thin Film Solar Panels
Thin film solar panels are generally used in industries where there’s a need to meet a high energy demand within a budget. These panels are quite fragile as they consist of a thin layer of the semiconductor material over a glass sheet. The semiconductor film can be made from different materials such as amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and gallium selenide, and it is this material that determines the efficiency of the panels.
Moreover, a module assembly of solar panels involves a thin layer of the photovoltaic cells sandwiched between a layer of glass at the front and a protective sheet at the back.
Benefits of Solar Energy
Over the past few decades, the advancements in the field of solar energy have truly transformed our lives. Things such as the solar lights or solar calculators that were considered a luxury a few years ago are now easily accessible and can be seen all around us. In fact, it’s a lot easier to buy and install solar panels to generate electricity and meet our daily energy requirements in the present times.
Moreover, non-renewable energy resources like oils crude oil and gas that are conventionally used for power generation are quite harmful to the environment. Solar energy is the cleanest, environmentally friendly, and the most versatile alternative to these non-renewable resources, making it a fantastic resource to generate electricity. Not only that, but it also has an array of other benefits over non-renewable energy resources, and we will cover those as well in the following section.
Solar energy is one of the cheapest forms of energy generation for day to day use. Although the initial installation cost of the solar panels is a bit high, they are quite cost-effective in the long run as you can save up on your electricity bills for the years to come. In fact, solar panels have a lifetime of 25 years, but you can recover the initial costs of the setup in only 10-15 years and save up on the bills for the next 10 years.
Generating power from solar energy requires no fuel burning, so it does not give off any greenhouse gas. This reduces the overall carbon footprint associated with energy generation. Moreover, this versatile energy source is available for free for use, and we can use it from the years to come without any fear of the resource running out for future generations. Another benefit of opting for solar energy is that it is available for the most part of the day in most areas around the globe. Excess energy produced during the daytime can be stored in batteries for use during the night time or in cloudy weather.
That’s not all. Solar panels require minimal maintenance throughout their lifetime of 25 years, so you can escape all the maintenance tasks associated with the conventional energy systems. That’s a relief in itself for a lot of people. Another added benefit of solar panels is that many people find them attractive when placed on the rooftop, so your property can gain a lot of attraction. Also, you can really increase the worth of your property and sell it at a higher price if you want since most buyers prefer properties that are already installed with solar panels.
So, if you ask us, we think that solar panels can come to your rescue in more ways than you can imagine.
Uses of Solar Energy
From powering up everyday appliances to meeting the energy needs of industries, solar energy is being utilized to serve us in plenty of ways. In fact, you’ll be amazed at the extent to which solar energy is now incorporated in almost everything around us.
Let’s take the example of watering plants, which is one of the most dreaded tasks for many people. But thanks to the advanced solar technology, solar pumps are now easily available to do the same task for us more efficiently and cost-effectively. These solar pumps are also easy to install and are eco-friendly, so that’s a win-win on every front!
Another common example is that of the floodlights used in stadiums for sports matches. These floodlights consume a lot of power and hence can cause a huge surge in the electricity bills, but thanks to solar energy, that can be avoided. Solar floodlights that are specifically designed to provide the required light intensities without harming the environment or increasing the electricity bills. Moreover, the energy stored in the batteries of these floodlights can be used for other purposes when there are no nigh matches in the stadiums.
Cons of Solar Energy
Truth be told, there are not a lot of disadvantages associated with the use of solar energy as it benefits us in a number of ways.
Having said that, the one disadvantage of solar energy that we can think about is that it is not available 24 hours a day, and is not in our control. Cloud covers can block the sunlight from reaching the surface of the Earth to be captured by the panels at any time, which may hinder the production of electricity. Hence, the panels can not be relied upon to meet our energy needs at all times, especially if they are not backed by batteries for another power source.
This brings us to another constraint of using solar panels – they require expensive and large battery banks to store extra energy. These batteries are quite costly and have a lifetime of 5 years, after which they need to be replaced. The panels also consume a considerable area to absorb maximum sunlight and meet your energy demands efficiently.
As far as using solar energy to power up cars and automobiles is concerned, we would not recommend going for that option. This is because solar energy can not give the same power and speed as provided by conventional automobile fuels. Nonetheless, solar panels are an incredible innovation that have surely changed the course of how things work, although they may quite be unaffordable for a lot of people.
Are Solar Panels Worth It?
Solar panels really facilitate us in more ways than we can imagine, but are they really worth the investment? Now that we know all about solar panels, we are better positioned to answer this question. To be honest, the answer to that question is both yes and no.
Solar panels are surely worth the investment if we consider all the benefits they bring to our lives, from being environmentally friendly to being the perfect alternative to fossil fuels. Regardless of these advantages, however, we would say that solar panels are not worth the investment considering the rate at which technology is advancing.
With the passage of every day, new and innovative things are coming forward. It will only be a matter of time that the current solar technology is considered outdated and is replaced by a more efficient and cost-effective version.
A large number of panels may be required to meet the energy demands of your house. That requires the availability of a large surface area on your rooftop that is not overshadowed by any nearby structure. The panels themselves can weigh a lot, so placing them on the roof also requires a detailed risk analysis of the construction of your house. Moreover, installing solar panels at your house hefty capital investment so they may not be suitable for most average homeowners. Not to forget the 30% federal tax credit that needs to be paid for the panels apart from their cost, and this makes them quite unaffordable for average individuals.
Since solar energy can’t be used to meet your energy needs around the clock unless you can afford large battery banks. This calls for relying on a backup source that can be used to provide electricity when the solar panels do not generate enough power during the winters, cloudy days, or at night time. This can result in a high overall electricity cost per year. Of course, you can still use solar energy to run small applications like water pumps and led lights during these times but not the entire household. Solar parks and solar farms are constructed to meet the high energy demands of industries and factories in an efficient manner, but this solution is not applicable to individual houses.
Not to forget that the lifetime of the solar panels is 30 years, at max. If we think about it, is 30 years really a long time for investing such a huge amount of money? Even if the answer to that question is positive, do we really want to stick with the same solar panels when our neighbors might be upgrading to the latest solar technologies in a few years?
After careful consideration and analysis, we believe that solar panels are not worth the humongous investment regardless of the benefits they offer, as they are only affordable by a small fraction of the population.
The technology is rapidly progressing towards simplicity and affordability, and it will only be a matter of time that more efficient and affordable ones will replace the current options of solar panels. However, the final decision is yours, and you can consider all things before deciding if you want to invest your money in solar panels.