Solar Cells: What You Should Know

Chances are you’ve used solar cells on a daily basis without realizing it. Does your calculator run on solar power? That tiny strip is made of solar cells, which collect energy from light and convert it directly into electricity.

Solar cells have evolved over time to become more efficient. In fact, newer high efficiency solar cells can generate even more electricity than their predecessors. The challenge the industry that creates these solar cells is focused on, however, is keeping costs down, which doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with high efficiency.

What is a Solar Panel Made Of?

The light absorbing material required to create a solar cell is often referred to as “bulk material.” The most widely used material is what’s referred to as solar grade silicon. But various thin-film technologies are being developed that will reduce the amount of material needed to create a solar cell, which will lead to reduced costs, but unfortunately also tends to lower the energy conversion efficiency by 7 to 10 percent.

With all the changes and evolution of the product, it’s estimated that manufacturing capacity of solar cells will grow 56 percent in 2009 despite the demand for renewable energy projects weakening in tight credit markets and the global economic recession, according to a report by research group DisplaySearch.

While we may not be ready for a solar revolution, where we all use free electricity from the sun, solar power use is on the rise. Homeowners are a big piece of that pie.

Residential solar electric systems work with utility systems to provide electricity converted from the energy collected from solar panels mounted to the roof. They can cut your electric bill by up to half, but they cannot provide all the energy you’ll need to run your home. Some companies allow net metering or credits to your account for excess energy collected that’s not used. The home’s regular utility picks up the slack when the energy use exceeds the solar energy collected.

These solar modules convert sunlight into electric current to operate appliances, motors, pumps and other devices but they are different from solar thermal panels, which involve water circulating through tubes heated by the sun and are used for swimming pools.

Residential solar electric systems are available from a variety of dealers and are only available to home owners. Systems can be used in just about any home with appropriate space for solar panels. Check with your state agency and municipal utilities to see if they offer rebates and incentive programs for the installation of renewable energy equipment. You can save thousands and even cut your costs in half.

Maintenance on Residential Solar Energy Systems

Maintenance is low on these systems, so costs should be minimal. Batteries used as a back-up during a power failure may need to be replaced every 10 years.
National standards exist on how these systems should be installed to ensure the installation is safe and legal. Homeowners associations should be contacted prior to purchasing a system, but some states prohibit HOAs from placing restrictions on solar devices.

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