Solar 101

The concept behind solar energy is to capture sunlight and turn it into usable electricity. As long as the sun keeps shining we will have a renewable and endless supply of energy to work with, which makes solar an attractive source of clean, renewable energy.

Photovoltaic (PV) cells are the component of a solar panel that captures the light. Here’s a quick description on how it works:

1. Sunlight hits the cells and creates DC (direct current) power.

2. The DC power is then sent to an inverter, which converts it into AC (alternating current) power.  Your home runs on AC power.

3. The AC power goes from the inverter to the house’s energy meter.  When the sun is shining, power from the panels are used to power your home and any extra power generated from the panels is sent back to the grid.  When this happens the power meter will turn backwards. However, at night, when the panels are not producing energy, the house uses power from the grid.  If you wanted to be totally independent from the power grid you would have the same system generating power into batteries and you would use the batteries as your nighttime power source.  This system would be much larger and more expensive.

Although there are many components to a solar system the most important is the PV panels.  There are three kinds of solar panels based on which type of cell they use.  Those three types of solar cells are monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous.

Monocrystalline cells are cut from a silicon ingot grown from a single large crystal of silicon.

Polycrystalline cells are cut from an ingot made up of many smaller crystals.

Amorphous or thin-film solar cells are made by depositing a thin film of silicon onto a sheet of another material such as steel.  The panel is formed as one piece and the individual cells are not as visible as in other types. Thin film has the advantage of being cheaper to produce than crystal cell technology.  It costs less but, is also less efficient and there is very little known about the durability of the product.

The most common type of panel you would use in Orange County is Monocrystalline  (Mono) or Polycrystalline (Poly).  Both are good and both have their strong points.

The mono panels are a little more expensive and produce a little more energy.  They are also more sensitive to heat.  Poly panels are less expensive and produce less, but work better in hotter areas.  Either panel is a good choice as long as you go with a good manufacturer.

You can find more information on our home page under “Choosing The Right Panel.”