What Are Photovoltaic Cells?
A solar panel is made of a group of solar cells connected electrically and enclosed in a frame. The photovoltaic (or solar) cells are made of semiconductor materials such as silicon and are responsible for turning sunlight into electricity by exploiting the photovoltaic effect. But how does that happen?
Sunlight is made of tiny particles of energy called photons. The amount of sunlight that hits the Earth in one hour would be enough to satisfy a year’s worth of energy demand. Solar cells are composed of two layers, one negative and one positive, that create an electric field. When photons are absorbed in the cell, the electrons are freed and led toward the bottom of the cell and through a wire, thus generating electricity. Solar panels generate direct current (DC) which is then converted to alternate current (AC) to be used daily by various appliances. If the electricity is not used, it can be turned to DC once more and sold back to the grid. Solar cells contained in domestic systems can convert around 20% of the sunlight they receive into electricity, although some systems designed for commercial purposes can reach 40%, they are way more expensive. Advancements in technology will surely help increase efficiency while bringing down the prices.
Since photovoltaic cells work by absorbing sunlight, they do not produce electricity during the night, but they do work on cloudy days despite losing some efficiency. You will have to resort to alternative power sources for the dark hours or integrate your solar system with batteries. A solar battery storage system costs between £1,500 and £6,000 depending on the size, battery material, capacity, and lifespan, but it can allow you to use green energy all day long. A few more considerations should be made before investing in photovoltaics:
- House location: a solar system should be able to catch sunlight from 9 am to 3 am, at least. The roof should be unshaded and be facing south, but conditions can vary for each case. If your house is situated in a protected historic site, you should check if you are allowed to install solar panels.
- Roof suitability: the roof should be large enough to accommodate the panels, and strong enough to support them.
- Instalment size: you should calculate how much electricity you consume in order to choose the right solar system size.
What Are the Benefits of Photovoltaic Cells?
Solar energy, as you may know, is completely green and will help you significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Despite the high initial investment cost, solar panels pay for themselves in a relatively short time and will lead to huge savings on your energy bills. Here are the main benefits of solar cells/panels:
- Solar cells generate no pollution and rely on a renewable source that won’t run out anytime soon.
- They don’t produce any noise.
- They are guaranteed to last at least 25 years, but the average lifespan of a solar system is between 30 and 40 years.
- There are generally no maintenance costs. Once the initial cost is covered, you won’t have to spend any more money and will generate free electricity.
- The initial investment pays back in around 10 years, but the larger the instalment and the amount of sunlight it receives, the shorter the payback period will be.
- You can earn money for the electricity you produce through the feed-in tariff.
How Much Do Photovoltaic Cells Cost?
Since photovoltaic cells are the modules that compose solar panels, they are not sold individually. The price of solar panel systems varies depending on the size of the instalment, and the starting price is around £3000. The system will pay back in around 10 years, but the period may vary depending on the amount of sunlight that it receives. Needless to say, places with a higher sun exposure will be more advantaged, providing a higher efficiency and shorter payback. Constant technological advancements are helping decrease costs and improve efficiency: the first solar cells only converted 1% of the sunlight they received into electricity and were 99% more expensive. And that was in the 70s!
You should also consider that it is possible to receive government incentives for installing solar panels. Although there are no more grants available, the scheme currently in place is the feed-in tariff, which pays you for both the electricity you produce and that which you sell back to the grid.
Are You Ready to Invest in Photovoltaic Cells?
If you have gone through all the information and have decided to invest in photovoltaic cells, your next step would be to find out about suppliers and prices, which can be a lengthy process.
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