What Journey Do Solar Panels Take on the Way to Your Home?
With more people considering clean energy and reducing the environmental impact of existing sources like coal, solar panel systems have become a top option.
If you’re thinking about installing one at home, learning how they’re made and the entire journey those panels have to go through before they’re set up on your roof can help you determine whether they’re the right renewable energy solution for you.
The Making of Solar Panels
The idea behind how solar panels can collect light and heat and convert them into electricity to power up your home is quite complex. However, the process to assemble them is simple. Here’s how it works.
Materials of Solar Panels
- Photovoltaic (PV) cells
- Polysilicon or silicon
The chief component of solar panels is the PV cells, made primarily of silicon. Silicon is a crystalline solid semiconductor with electrical properties used as a base for solar panels. It’s the second most abundant element on earth after oxygen. Even if the demand for these products is sky-high, there’s enough material for production.
The PV cells are made of two types of silicon cells — p-type and n-type:
- P-type silicon: A positive charge base made of silicon and boron or gallium.
- N-type silicon: A negative charge base composed of silicon and phosphorus.
Stacking these two layers creates an energy field like a battery with opposite charges. Bonding them together with metal and glass in a solid, weatherproof panel and adding electric wires enables it to collect energy and convert it into electricity.
Three Types of Solar Panels
There are three kinds of solar panels based on the manufacturing process of the PV cell:
- Monocrystalline: This type is the most expensive as the PV cell is constructed from a single, continuous block of silicon cut into slabs.
- Polycrystalline: This kind of PV cell is created from several pieces of silicon melted and bonded together, making it less efficient yet more affordable.
- Thin-film: This type has several options for the base material, such as amorphous silicon (a-Si) or Cadmium telluride (CdTe). The cost varies depending on what kind of material is used. It’s thinner than the first two, has a slim design and is typically used in portable devices.
Distribution and Shipping
Solar panels may look sturdy but are fragile and heavy, posing transportation issues. One mishandling mistake can lead to micro-cracks, affecting the system’s functions.
Furthermore, they travel long distances before they reach your home. China produces 70% of the world’s metallurgical-grade silicon and 77% of the polysilicon used to create solar panels.
Although some companies assemble these products within the U.S., they represent a small market percentage. Labor costs are cheaper in Asia, so several organizations prefer having their operations located there. As a result, solar panels travel thousands of miles before they get delivered to your doorstep.
Solar panels are subjected to various risks during transit. Some challenges carriers have to consider when handling these items are:
- Mechanical stress: During transport, bad weather conditions on ocean routes and vehicle movement on the roads can induce mechanical stress that can lead to breakages and cracks.
- Improper packaging: The panels are usually stacked in a crate or a box in a horizontal or vertical direction, with cushions between each unit to protect them from shocks or vibrations during transport. Without proper packaging to support the panels, they can sustain damage before they reach the buyer.
- Micro-cracks: Unlike cracks that the eyes can see, it’s hard to distinguish micro-damage on the solar modules. These cracks affect the life span and performance of the panels in the long run.
Disputes happen frequently with delivered yet ruined panels. Who is responsible if the order arrives to you with cracks? It’s not a simple black-and-white answer, but different parties may sometimes be liable for logistic errors.
It’s best to monitor the delivery situation through your tracking number or a reference. For instance, if the weather on a specific transit day is rough, consider it a factor for possible breakage.
Some carriers attach a monitoring device with a built-in shock sensor that records the outside impacts on the vehicles and goods. It gives buyers transparent data about transit points where a shock could result in potential cracks. This information gives buyers solid proof in case they report shipping issues.
Installation costs roughly $25,000 for an average-sized home. It’s a costly one-time payment but financially practical for the long term.
Some states have rules governing solar panel installations. You may need to secure permits from your local authorities, homeowners association, and utility company before beginning the installation process. Some states may also not let you directly connect a solar system to the grid unless you have the panels installed by a professional. Check your state regulations about solar systems before buying.
Solar panels are installed on the roof, so your roof must be able to withstand the weight and size of the solar panel array. Before installation, some things to consider include:
- Slope: A good roof slope angles 15-40 degrees to get the most out of the sun exposure.
- Orientation: The consensus is that panels face south to collect more sunlight.
- Size: The usable surface of your roof must be big enough to fit solar panels.
- Material: There’s no strict guidance, but solid materials like asphalt roof shingles are an excellent choice for roof surfaces if you plan to install solar panels
- Age of the roof: Your roof should be ten years old or less. Older roofs require inspection to determine if they can be a good base.
The first step is to find a local contractor to do the legwork for you. Here’s the general process for setting up a solar system home:
1. Erect scaffolding to ensure safety.
2. Set up a solar mounting system.
3. Install the panels on the mounting structure, ensuring the system is stable.
4. Add electrical wiring.
5. Install a solar inverter to convert direct current (DC) electricity to alternating current (AC) that’s usable at home.
6. Connect the inverter and solar battery to store excess power so you have electricity to use during cloudy or rainy weather.
7. Link the inverter to the consumer unit to control and distribute generated electricity.
8. Test solar panels.
Thankfully, solar panels don’t require extensive maintenance, which is an excellent feature. All you have to do is check them a few times each year and wipe down any dirt or debris accumulation on the surfaces. After installation, you can enjoy clean energy and lower your utility spending.
A Solar Panel System Is a Good Investment for Your Home
Installing solar panels can be costly, but the price reflects the long process and distance traveled to get to your home. Overall, they can be an excellent investment to reduce your monthly bills.
While a solar-powered home is now a trend, review your local regulations and check if your roof is in good condition before setting up one. Lastly, hire a licensed contractor to simplify the installation process and ensure it’s safe for your home and family.