From the discovery of the photovoltaic effect in 1839 to the familiar solar panels of today—which didn't make their commercial debut until 2005—the evolution of the solar power industry has been fascinating. The amount of electricity produced by a solar panel can vary due to its dependence on three simple yet important components: its size, the efficiency of the solar cells the panel contains, and the amount of sunlight it absorbs.
Modern solar panels are typically uniform in size at 5.4 feet tall by about 3.25 feet in width. The smaller cells actually produce the electricity. The wires connecting the individual cells transmit the electrical current to a junction box where each solar panel is connected to the frame. The amount of power produced by each array depends entirely on the number of solar cells working together.
Even though the average size of solar panels hasn't changed in decades, their efficiency has improved drastically. When first used in the 1950s, solar cells only converted about 6 percent of the sun's energy into electricity. At that percentage, an array of 60 cells would only produce about 20 Watts of electricity, hardly enough to power a small light bulb.
Modern solar cells are capable of absorbing about 20 percent of solar energy. The power rating of each panel is decided by combining cell efficiency with the size of each solar panel. This means that each panel can be rated to produce a certain amount of wattage.
How many watts and kWh can a solar panel produce?
Solar panels are rated to predict – not pinpoint – the amount of power they can produce under ideal sunlight conditions. This is defined as the maximum power rating. The problem is that actual sunlight conditions aren't always at their peak.
This means that the amount of electricity your home's solar panels will actually produce on any given day always depends on several environmental factors.
- An estimate of the average amount of sunlight your roof might get daily or annually.
- If recurrent shading, such as that from wind-blown tree branches, obscure direct sunlight from constantly hitting the solar panels.
- The size of your solar panels and the level of efficiency the solar cells demonstrate at converting energy into electrical power.
Each kilowatt-hour is a unit of electrical energy equal to power (1,000 watts) multiplied by time (hour). The number of kWh your home uses every month is reflected by the amount of your electric bill. For example, leaving an average 100-Watt lightbulb lit for one hour equals 100 Watt-hours. This means that 10 100-Watt bulbs equal 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh).
How many volts are in a solar panel?
The intensity of the sun controls the current and power output of photovoltaic solar panels. Each cell only produces about one-half of a volt. But when a standard 12-volt solar panel contains 36 cells, it can produce about 17 volts during peak output. When under load (charging a battery system), that output can drop as low as 12 volts. Each panel usually produces between 70 to 100 Watts.
Depending on the size of your home and your electricity usage, any number of extra panels can be wired into the array to increase your electrical output.
Do you generate more solar energy in certain states?
Because solar power generates electricity based on the intensity of the sun's rays, it's long been a belief that several Southwestern states produce more power than others. Solar power production is based on cumulative solar capacity or the total amount of solar-friendly equipment in use. The 2018 State Solar Power Rankings Report provides more information on state ratings.
Why is solar output important?
Some scientists believe that changes in the sun's electromagnetic radiation might affect the Earth's natural climate processes such as how clouds form and how the earth is heated.
Do some solar panels produce more solar energy than others?
- Monocrystalline solar panels: These are the most expensive and efficient panels on the market. The cells contain pure silicon and undergo a complicated process of growing long crystal silicon rods. The rods are sliced into nearly translucent wafers and formed into cells.
- Polycrystalline solar panels: These panels are comprised of multiple Polycrystalline cells. They're slightly less efficient and more affordable. The cells are processed differently, giving them the appearance of shattered glass. This product is also cut into very thin slices.
- Amorphous solar panels: The cells are not crystals, but a thin layer of silicon secured to a base material such as glass or metal. While these panels are the least expensive, they also produce far less electrical power. This means you'll need more of them to equal the power output of either of the other panels. The real benefit is the ability to form this material into long sheets that can be applied like roofing materials on south-facing surfaces.
Can you increase the efficiency of a solar panel?
While strides within the industry are being made daily, there isn't much you can do to increase the efficiency of a solar panel beyond performing routine cleaning. Dust, debris and even water spots from rain or snow can affect the efficiency of panels.
In general, how many solar panels do you need to run a house?
It's estimated that the average American home is about 2,000 square feet in size. To efficiently operate that home without having to depend on your local utility provider would require at least 4,000 Watts of electricity, or around 12 to 18 solar panels.
How many solar panels will my home need?
Calculating the number of solar panels needed to power your home can be easily done online or with a pencil and paper. The size of your home, the amount of power you typically use every month, and the type of solar panels you choose will all influence the size of the array.
Solar panels generate power by converting sunlight to electricity with or without moving parts, no emissions whatsoever, and little to maintenance. It's a win-win situation.