Anyone would agree that solar power is the way of the future. A switch to solar energy can help humanity progress sustainably. Solar products can also make life more convenient for everybody. A lot of people criticize these products as being too expensive. The criticism is directed towards companies for trying to make too much of a profit. This is actually a really big misconception. It’s true that solar products are sold with a profit margin in mind. However, this is not an unfair margin. Companies need to make money after all.
Understanding how solar products are made can help explain why they cost so much. Their prices factor in future electricity savings as well. The components are also rather expensive if you think about it. It’s also it is important to note that these products are getting cheaper. Pretty soon they might just be cheaper than regular appliances. Still, learning the manufacturing process is crucial to understanding the importance of solar powered appliances and products. In this article we will be attempting to alleviate some of the confusion in this regard. We will be starting off with perhaps the most important solar product out there, the solar panel.
How Solar Panels Are Made
If you look at a solar panel, it might just seem like a shiny rectangle to you. However, if you look below the surface you would see that they contain many intricate and important components. Most of these components need to be optimized so that they can run effectively. This is a time consuming and complex process. It’s not as simple as just putting the components together, after all. They need to be refined and optimized so that the maximum amount of solar power can be obtained.
The most important component of a solar panel is the photovoltaic cell. These cells are basically made of silicon. Silicon is a pretty decent conductor of electricity. This is why it’s called a semiconductor. Its conductive properties are what make it perfect for solar power. The silicon is what absorbs the solar energy. It is also what helps convert this energy into electricity. Silicon is not a natural semiconductor, though. It has some conductive properties but they need to be refined so that maximum output can be achieved. This is a complex process that requires a lot of time to complete. This partly contributes to the high average price of solar panels.
A number of choices need to be made with regards to the silicon. For example, manufacturers have to choose between silicon with a monocrystalline structure or a polycrystalline structure. Both of these types have their own benefits. They do more or less the same thing, though. Once the silicon has been obtained, it needs to be refined. The refinement process is only complete when you are left with pure silicon. Once the pure silicon is formed, it naturally takes a cylindrical shape.
This natural shape is a problem, though. It does not allow the silicon to fit into a panel. The panel module is necessary to protect the silicon from rain, snow, hail or any other environmental phenomenon. Hence, the silicon will have to be shaped and processed further. Eventually the material will be in the perfect shape to fit into the panel module. Around sixty cells are required for a standard solar panel. With the work required for each cell, you can imagine how much time this would take. And this is all just for a single solar panel, so it’s amazing that they are made as quickly as they are.
Next comes the electrical circuit. This comes in the form of a wire that is placed in a series. Each cell does not produce much voltage on its own. If the voltage passes through this circuit, though, the cumulative output becomes quite significant. Each module is then fitted with a junction box. In order to protect the cells from thermal damage, protective black sheets are applied. Everything is then placed inside a glass casing. A coating of reflective material is then applied. This helps the panel absorb a lot more sunlight.
One thing to keep in mind is that dirt can accumulate on solar panels. This is why cleaning is necessary. A significant accumulation for dirt can leave solar panels functioning at only 20% capacity. The mounts are also important. They need to be sturdy to support the weight of the panel. There are different kinds of mounts that are available too, such as rail mounts and pole mounts.
Solar trackers can also be used. They help tilt the solar panel in the direction of the sun. Hence, a more efficient rate of solar energy absorption is reached and you no longer have to worry about the trajectory of the sun.
The Next Step: A Solar Controller
The electricity produced by solar panels is stored in batteries. The batteries then supply appliances and homes with power. However, this process is not perfect. The electricity in these batteries is often not stable. Some of it can be sent back to the solar panel. This can cause a lot of damage. It can also greatly reduce the life expectancy of a solar panel. In order to prevent this damage and preserve solar panels, a solar controller needs to be used.
A controller blocks the reverse charge. It locks all of the energy inside the battery. This also prevents batteries from being charged too much. There is a limit to how much batteries can be charged. Leaving your phone on charge if the battery is full can reduce battery life. This also holds true for solar batteries. A lower battery life means more solar power being required to power homes. Hence, solar controllers are an essential aspect of this process. Lots of different controllers are currently available on the market. However, there is one controller that manages to surpass all the others. It might be a little expensive but it’s fair to say that it’s worth the price.
This controller is the Maximum Power Point Tracker or MPPT. This controller contains diodes to indicate voltage levels. It also has a load switch and a charging switch. Indicators can help you get a visual representation of how your solar panel is doing. Some MPPT controllers come with screens as well. These are more expensive but they are easier to use as well. They can also be more efficient at optimizing battery life. This controller detects the maximum capacity of a battery and cuts off power supply if that limit is reached. It also prevents batteries from being drained. Reverse charges can also be prevented through the use of this controller.
It’s important to get a controller that has a good voltage regulator. Specific voltage settings aren’t available with cheaper controllers. Hence, people that are thinking of investing in solar panels should spend a little extra and invest in an MPPT controller system. This can also increase the longevity of the third component of a solar panel that we will be discussing below.
The Final Stage: Solar Inverters
You can produce as much solar power as you want with a solar panel. All the electricity you generate will be useless without a solar inverter, though. The electricity that is produced is usually a direct current. This is a problem because the vast majority of modern appliances can only use alternating current. Hence, all electricity produced through solar power needs to be run through a solar converter before it can actually be used. Hence, four different kinds of solar inverters have emerged over the years. Each of these inverters have unique advantages to them. They also have disadvantages. Picking the right one depends a lot on your specific needs.
These four types are as follows:
- Stand Alone
- Battery Backup
- Grid Tie
Battery backup and stand alone inverters are great for off grid solar setups. They can convert DC electricity to AC without requiring grid support. Grid tie inverters depend on the grid for the conversion process. This makes them useful for people that still want the dependability of grid connectivity. Hybrid inverters use a combination of both techniques. It’s easy to see the advantages and disadvantages here. It all depends on what kind of solar setup you want for your home or business.
With all of that said, it’s time to discuss DIY inverters. Before we continue, it’s important to say that commercial inverters are far superior to anything you could make at home. Still, a DIY solar inverter can be useful for people on a tight budget. They can get the job done and are relatively easy to assemble.
The first component required for a DIY inverter would be the integrated circuit or internal chip. This is also referred to as the power IC. Aluminum sheets will also be required here. By using a mica kit, you can turn these components into a circuit with the help of a power transformer. Basic electronic components such as switches an sockets will also be required, though these come cheap so you don’t have to worry about them too much.
Dual gate setups can help oscillate the flow of electricity and maintain a steady voltage. Safety precautions should be taken before trying to assemble a DIY solar inverter. This is a complex piece of hardware and it will be handling a pretty heavy flow of electricity. Any small mistake that you make could cause a major accident. In order to prevent injury, follow the instructions to the letter. Or you could just go out and buy a top notch solar inverter. They aren’t as expensive as other solar panel components and they are completely safe to boot.
Solar Regulators: A Useful Bonus Feature
If you really want to preserve your battery, a charge controller might not be enough. You might also want to use a solar regulator. Charge controllers are good at preventing power from backing up into the system. Regulators, on the other hand, are more focused on the batteries themselves. They are meant to prevent over charging of batteries. This is the sole purpose for which they were built. This makes them better for this job than controllers which have a more diverse range of applications.
Most solar regulators come with an indicator. This can tell you whether voltage is low or high. You can also get signals for when the battery is low and when it is fully charged and is now being overcharged. Monitoring the information you get from your regulator can help prevent damage from occurring. You will also get a load switch that is connected to a set of diodes. These diodes are what will allow you to modulate the voltage that is being sent to your batteries.
One thing to note about solar regulators is that they are fairly high maintenance. Unlike other solar panel components, they need to be monitored a lot. Direct sunlight can damage regulators so you need to keep them covered. You should also prevent moisture from reaching the wires. Not only could this cause dangerous incidents to occur, but corrosion can also happen as well. Too much corrosion can lead to the wires not being able to carry charge. You will have to get them changed. Good quality wires don’t come cheap so work on preserving the ones you have.
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can get an older, cheaper model and make it work. The older solar regulators on the market are not that efficient. They are also notoriously unreliable. Technology has advanced quite rapidly in recent years. This means that newer regulators are extremely effective, far more so than their older counterparts. They are also much more durable. This allows them to last longer before breaking down. They are slightly more expensive but this is compensated for with all of the other benefits that you are going to get.
Solar Powered Appliances & Their Components
Solar panels can help power an entire home. However, you don’t need to invest in the whole setup. Individual solar powered appliances are also available. These are far more affordable than an entire solar system. They also have unique components that lead to specific functions. Replacing regular appliances with solar powered ones can reduce your reliance on grid power. These appliances will continue running even during a power outage. Without further ado, here are five essential solar powered appliances and the components that they are made out of:
The Solar Air Cooler
The hot summer months can be tough to get through without an air conditioner. The only problem is that air conditioners use a lot of electricity. This can lead to really high utility bills. Solar air coolers are much better. They can keep your house nice and cool without adding to your bill. This way everyone can stay comfortable without worrying about running up utility costs. There are two types of solar air coolers that you can get. Each type has benefits that the other does not. Both are great for keeping internal temperatures at optimal levels throughout the day.
One type of solar air conditioner uses solar thermal technology. It uses flat plates to collect solar power. The other type runs on solar panels. Usually at least two solar panels are required. If you have a large AC that is meant to cool your entire home, multiple solar panels will be required. People are also starting to use solar power for central air conditioning. This is usually too expensive, though. Central air conditioning just requires too much energy to be efficiently powered through solar energy. This is why you might be better off buying split units that run on solar power.
Hybrid solar air conditioners are also becoming common. They have a unique advantage to them. This is that you can use them on grid electricity as well as solar power. Solar power is great but sometimes it might not be available. An overcast day can leave a serious energy deficit. Being able to switch to grid electricity can be useful her. It can help your AC run constantly without shutting off repeatedly. ACs get damaged if they are constantly turned on and off. They also need a consistent supply of electricity to run efficiently and keep your home cool.
You should try using an MPPT controller for your AC. These appliances are highly sensitive. They need to be taken care of. Protecting them against power surges and voltage dips is essential. A power controller can help keep the voltage levels consistent. An MPPT controller with a hybrid AC can solve all of your home cooling problems.
The Solar Fridge
Fridges are essential for day to day living. Much of the food we buy needs to be stored in a cold place otherwise it would go bad. Things like meat and dairy products are an important part of our diets. They can’t be kept in warm conditions for very long without starting to rot. Fridges allow us to stock up on food and preserve it for extended periods of time. However, appliances that generate heat or cold air require quite a bit of energy. People that use heavy duty fridges usually find themselves struggling to pay their utility bills.
Solar powered fridges are not widespread in the market. People often don’t know how beneficial they can be. Awareness of these products is starting to spread, though. Soon solar fridges are going to become the standard. Thermal plate fridges are available on the market. However, most people prefer PV fridges. These use photovoltaic cells to absorb and convert solar energy. One main difference between a regular fridge and a solar fridge is that the former uses AC electricity whereas the latter can run on DC. Hence, you can use a solar fridge without needing an inverter. This can help bring your costs down. A low investment can help you preserve food without racking up a hefty utility bill.
You should make sure you buy a solar fridge with an in line fuse. This protects the wiring from power surges. This fuse shuts the fridge down if the voltage is too low or high. You can stabilize the voltage and the fridge will start back up again.
Solar fridges also come with condensers and evaporators. These help to control moisture and humidity levels in the fridge. Lights and fans are also included in the overall package. The construction is pretty standard when compared to other fridges. The only difference is that this fridge runs on solar power. Such a fridge can be especially useful in rural communities. People in such communities can’t afford to use this much grid electricity. They still need a fridge, though, and solar fridges can work perfectly under such parameters.
The Solar Fan
Fans are useful in their own way. They can help circulate the air in the room. Sometimes the temperature of a room is fine but you might still feel a little warm. Fans can help distribute cooler air and take away warmer air. They are also a lot cheaper than air conditioners. This makes them a great temperature control solution for people that are strapped for cash. The best thing is that solar powered fans don’t need grid electricity. People that live in areas where power outages are common can benefit from such a fan.
They are a couple of add-ons that you should get with your solar fan. One important add-on is an AC/DC adapter. Fans aren’t the same as fridges. They need AC electricity to function. An adapter can convert small amounts of DC electricity into AC. They are far more affordable than inverters. Inverters are only required for larger setups. If all you are using is a fan then an adapter can work just as well. Fans don’t need much energy anyway. An adapter can convert the small amount of electricity that your fan needs.
The second add-on you should get is a battery set. This will allow you to keep using your fan even after the sun has set. You can also make a DIY solar fan at home. This is much simpler than a DIY inverter or regulator. It is a lot safer too. People that want to save as much money as possible might want to look into making their own solar fan.
All you need are wires, a solar panel, a ceiling fan, a capacitor as well as a soldering gun that you can use to bring all of the pieces together. The solar panel doesn’t have to be large. A compact travel solar panel can create more than enough electricity to power a fan. All you need once the fan is assembled is a battery and you’re good to go.
The Solar Lamp
Human society advanced significantly when we learned how to keep the night illuminated. We have come a long way from fire torches, though. Now most people use lamps for soft lighting. You can also focus this light if you are reading or studying. A solar lamp can help solve your lighting problems with a renewable energy source. An added advantage is that you are not harming the environment. Lighting systems are a big contributor to environmental damage. If people started using solar lamps instead, much of this damage could be avoided. Such lamps are also a lot safer than grid powered lamps.
Many parts of the world don’t have access to electricity. Children can’t study because it gets dark and they no longer have the light required to read or write. Solar lamps can bring a lot of prosperity to these areas. Commerce can be encouraged when people don’t have to stop working once the sun goes down. Many of these areas rely on candles or gas lamps. These are very dangerous fire hazards. Solar lamps are far safer. They are more effective as well. The lighting they provide is clearer and more consistent. It also helps that they don’t suddenly turn off due to a gust of wind.
One tip that you should follow is to use LED bulbs in your solar lamp. Incandescent bulbs use a lot more electricity. They also break down quite easily. Replacing them constantly can be a hassle and an added expense. Your solar lamp would work better if it has LEDs. You would be able to get by with a smaller solar panel. If you want to make a DIY solar lamp, make sure you use a small solar panel and LED bulbs. This is a great combo that always works well.
The Solar Charger
All of the previous appliances have fulfilled basic necessities. Food storage, lighting and temperature control are all essential for a basic standard of living. You need something a bit more than that, though. Being able to charge your phone through solar energy can be very useful. Once you can charge your phone, you don’t need a lot else. The solar charger can help you stay connected with the world around you. It can also charge your laptop as well as all kinds of battery powered devices. A solar charger can help with lighting too. Some flashlights run on built in batteries. These batteries can be charged through solar energy.
A major problem during power outages is that you can’t charge your phone. If you get stuck somewhere without power, you would need your phone to get in touch with someone. A solar charger can give you a lot more options if the power goes out. They can help you get through some pretty disastrous situations. They are also great for people that like to go camping. You can’t find a power socket in the great outdoors, after all. Using a solar power can help keep your phone charged. Hence, even if something happens to you while you are out in the wilderness, you would still be able to call for help.
A USB solar charger can be easily made at home. Just get a charge circuit with a USB interface and a solar panel. The rest is easy. Diodes, batteries, wires and a casing are all you need. You should also get a glue gun and tape to hold everything together. A very small solar panel can work just fine here. Phone chargers don’t need a very high voltage at all. In fact, high voltages might just damage your phone’s battery.
There is a vast range of solar products that people can use. Many of these products are replacing traditional appliances already. Solar panels are complicated devices that have many intricate components in them. Solar powered appliances are actually quite similar to regular ones, though. They just have the addition of a solar panel. Using solar products is great for people that want to reduce their dependency on the grid. They can also help impoverished areas jump ahead a few steps instead of waiting for someone to help them get electricity. The lack of pollution caused by such products is definitely an important bonus.