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Power Your Home with Sunshine: Solar Panels Explained

Solar panels can save money on electricity bills. Learn how they work, the types of installations, and the benefits of going solar in Australia.

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1. What are Solar Panels?

Solar panels are devices that generate electricity using sunlight through photovoltaic (PV) cells. These cells are made from materials like silicon, which absorb sunlight and release electrons, creating an electric current. Several solar cells are linked to make a solar panel, and multiple panels are assembled to form a solar array. Solar panels are essential components of a photovoltaic (PV) solar power system.

Before moving ahead, a common confusion in consumers’ minds and the question they ask me frequently is, what is the difference between solar cells and solar panels?

So, let’s understand it with a very basic analogy. Think of a single brick. It’s a valuable building component, but you wouldn’t build a house with just one brick. A solar cell is like this brick, and a solar panel is a complete wall made up of many bricks put together to create a strong structure.

What Is the Difference Between Solar Cells and Solar Panels?

Solar Cell

Solar Panel

  • Solar cells, or PV cells, are small electronic devices made of materials called semiconductors, like silicon. These cells can convert sunlight into electricity directly through the photovoltaic effect.

  • Solar cells are fundamental building blocks that convert sunlight into electricity.
  • Solar cells are tiny power generators that convert sunlight into electricity.
  • Solar panels are assemblies of Solar (PV) cells that work collectively to generate electricity. They are designed to resist weather and are easy to install in solar panel systems.

  • It’s a collection of interconnected solar cells encased in a protective frame.
  • Solar panels are assemblies of multiple solar cells that produce a usable amount of electricity.

2. How Do Solar Panels Work?

  1. Sunlight Absorption: Sunlight strikes the solar panel, and photons are absorbed by the silicon PV cells.
  2. Electron Excitation: Electrons in silicon atoms get excited by photons from sunlight, causing them to move through the cell’s layers and increase in energy level. 
  3. Electric Current Flow: As electrons move through the layers of the cell, they generate energy in the form of an electric current. This current flows in a direct current (DC) within the cell. The electricity then travels to the edge of the panel via a conductive wire and is delivered to the inverter through this wire.
  4. Inverter Conversion (Optional): An inverter is a device that converts DC electricity to alternating current (AC) for household use.
  5. Power Your Home: The converted AC electricity can power your building or home appliances and lights, reducing reliance on the grid. When solar panels are attached to the utility meter, any extra electricity generated is sent back to the utility grid. It causes the meter to reverse, giving the property credit for any excess power generated.

3. Points to consider: How To Choose The Best Solar Panels

1. Panel Efficiency:

If you’re considering buying components for your solar power system, you might be curious about how to measure the efficiency of solar panels. When we talk about solar panels, their efficiency is measured in percentages. This number indicates how well the panel can convert sunlight into electricity. The panel’s electricity production increases at a higher percentage rate from the same surface area in square meters. However, it’s important to note that high-efficiency panels usually come at a higher cost. A good approach is looking for panels with an efficiency rating of 20% or more to balance cost and performance.

2. Solar Panel Type

There are many types of solar panels, such as bifacial, thin-film, and perovskite, which CSIRO recently invented. Still, here we will consider the two main types that are mostly commercially used: monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

  1. Monocrystalline: Monocrystalline solar panels comprise a single, continuous crystal structure recognisable by their uniform dark look and rounded edges. These panels are made by melting a single, high-purity silicon crystal and then slicing it into wafers. The wafers are then processed and assembled into solar cells, which generate electricity from sunlight. The advantage of monocrystalline panels is that they are the most efficient type of solar panel available, converting more of the sun’s energy into electricity than other panels. However, they are also the most expensive due to the complex manufacturing process required to create them.
  2. Polycrystalline: Polycrystalline solar panels are composed of multiple silicon crystals fused. These panels are known for being less efficient than their monocrystalline counterparts, but they are also more affordable.

3. Panel Wattage:

Nowadays, solar panels have higher wattage outputs than before. Solar panels are rated in watts (W). A higher-wattage panel will produce more electricity and be more extensive and expensive. When choosing the correct wattage for your panels, you must consider the size of your roof and your energy needs.

4. Panel Size:

Selecting solar panels of any random size may not fit your roof well. Solar panels come in various sizes. If you have sufficient roof area, you can go with large panels. The size you need will depend on your roof size and energy needs. Larger panels generate more electricity, but there may be better options if you have a small roof.

5. Cost vs. Value:

The initial cost of solar panels in Australia varies based on efficiency, wattage, size, and brand. Installation costs and transportation charges can also influence the price of solar panels. While the initial cost is an essential factor, consider the long-term value. More efficient panels cost more upfront but can generate more savings over time.

6. Durability and Warranty:

Solar panels are non-mechanical devices that generally last long. Choose panels known for their durability and backed by a strong warranty. A typical warranty lasts 25 to 30 years, indicating the manufacturer’s confidence in their product.

7. Brand/Manufacturer:

Research the manufacturer’s reputation, including its financial stability, years in business, and customer reviews. It can give you insight into its product quality and customer service. Also, look for the manufacturer’s country of origin. Most of the panels used are from Germany and China. However, you must research the brand and its manufacturing quality before selecting panels.

8. Solar Panel Specifications:

Understanding the technical specifications of solar panels can be complex for beginners, specifically those new to this market. Many technical terms take work to understand, and many models share similar attributes, making distinguishing between them more complex. Yet, two crucial specs stand out for their impact on performance and let’s make it easy to understand for everyone:

  1. Temperature Coefficient (Pmax): This tells you how well a panel works when it gets hot. A typical panel loses about 0.35% efficiency for every degree above 25°C (77°F). The best panels lose less efficiency, around 0.26% for each degree, which means they do better in the heat. Panel efficiency declines with rising temperatures. The Temperature Coefficient of Pmax, generally around -0.35%/°C for standard panels, measures this effect. A lower coefficient means less efficiency loss in heat, making a panel with -0.26%/°C exceptionally good. Such panels suffer less output reduction above 25°C, potentially boosting annual energy production by up to 2%.
  2. Power Tolerance: The power tolerance of a solar panel indicates whether its actual power output matches the value mentioned on its label. High-quality solar panels provide at least the amount of power they have promised. In some cases, they might even exceed their stated output by 0-5 watts. Some solar panels list their power tolerance as “+/-3%”, meaning their output could be more or less than promised. However, panels that guarantee a positive power output are always a better choice because you can be sure to receive at least the power the Manufacturer pledged to you.

9. Aesthetic Considerations:

It’s subjective; some people may prefer a specific look that others may not like. It’s your personal choice. However, the choices you have aesthetic-wise are:

    1. Silver frames.
    2. Black frames
    3. All black panels

10. Compatibility with Existing System:

Ensure the panels are compatible with your current or planned solar system setup, including the inverter and mounting system.

4. The environmental benefit of solar panels

1. Environmental Benefits

  • Clean energy: Solar energy generates clean, renewable power from the sun to combat climate change and air pollution.

  • Reduced reliance on fossil fuels: Because electricity generation requires sun rays, solar panels, and some renewable devices, you don’t need fossil fuels for some of your total electricity requirements. Hence, by generating your electricity, you lessen your dependence on traditional power plants that rely on fossil fuels.

  • Conserve Water: Solar energy production requires minimal water, unlike nuclear and coal power plants, which consume large amounts of water for cooling.

2. Economic Benefits

  1. Lower electricity bills: Solar panels significantly reduce or even eliminate electricity bills, allowing you to generate energy. You can also pay your utility bills by selling excess power generated.

  2. Increases Home Value: Homes equipped with solar panels sell faster and have higher property values than their non-solar counterparts.

  3. Offers Tax Incentives and Rebates: The Australian Government and Many state governments provide tax benefits, rebates, and incentives to encourage solar panel installation and reduce the upfront costs.

3. Personal Benefits

  • Energy independence: Solar panels give you more control over your energy source, reducing reliance on the grid; by generating your solar power, you depend less on foreign oil and natural gas markets, contributing to national energy independence.

  • Low maintenance: Solar panels require minimal maintenance. They need cleaning once in a while so that they can operate at their total capacity.

  • Silent operation: Solar panels generate electricity silently without making noise as no mechanical parts are present in solar panels, unlike generators.

  • Provides Consistent Energy Supply: Solar energy can provide consistent energy supply, especially during peak load times, reducing the risk of blackouts and enhancing energy security.

5. Best Solar Panels Brands in Australia (2024)

Australian homeowners and businesses increasingly turn to solar energy to seek sustainable energy solutions. The right solar panels ensure a greener footprint and offer significant savings and value. Below is an authoritative guide on the top solar panel brands that stand out in Australia for their efficiency, innovation, and reliability.

1. SunPower:

A Legacy of Unmatched Efficiency

Originating in the United States in 1985, SunPower has cemented its status with solar panels that boast up to 23% efficiency. It offers some of the highest efficiency rates in the market. Their panels are well-suited for Australian homes due to their durability and excellent performance in high-temperature conditions.

2. REC Solar:

Innovation Meets Quality

REC Solar has been operating in Norway since 1996 and has established itself as a leading player in the solar industry with its half-cut (split-cell) technology. This innovation enhances efficiency and shade tolerance, making REC panels appealing to Australian consumers looking for efficient and sustainable solar solutions. REC is committed to quality and sustainability, cementing its position as a top choice for those who value these attributes.

3. Q Cells:

Renowned for Reliability and Performance

Q Cells, a German company now based in South Korea, is renowned for its high-efficiency solar panels. It strongly emphasises tackling PID (Potential Induced Degradation) and holds certifications from respected organisations like TÜV Rheinland and PVEL. Due to its reliability and durability, Q Cells is a popular choice for Australian solar panels.

4. LG:

Known for its high-efficiency panels and strong warranties, LG solar panels are a premium option popular in Australia for their performance and longevity.

5. Trina Solar:

Leading with Innovation

Established in China in 1997, Trina Solar has become a global PV industry leader. Known for its high-efficiency, robust, and innovative solar panels, Trina Solar’s commitment to reliability and warranty fulfilment has earned it a favoured status among Australian homeowners and businesses.

6. LONGi Solar:

Pioneering Monocrystalline Technology

LONGi Solar has been a leading figure in monocrystalline silicon technology since its inception in China in 2000. Since entering the Australian market in 2017, the company’s PERC and bifacial technology advancements have brought about groundbreaking efficiency and affordability. LONGi’s focus on improving solar panel lifespan and performance is evident in its efforts to set new efficiency records.

7. Jinko Solar:

Setting Standards in Solar Innovation

Jinko Solar, founded in 2006 in China, has quickly established itself as a leader in solar technology innovation. Its collaboration with the Australian UNSW Solar Research Centre and consistent setting of efficiency records demonstrate Jinko Solar’s commitment to advancing solar technology. Offering a range of affordable and reliable panels, Jinko Solar is a top pick for quality solar solutions in Australia.

8. Canadian Solar:

Balancing Quality with Affordability

Since 2001, Canadian Solar has combined quality, performance, and affordability with a solid commitment to sustainability. Known in Australia for offering great value, Canadian Solar’s use of PERC and split-cell technology enhances panel efficiency and reliability, catering to Australia’s varied climate conditions.

9. Panasonic:

Excellence in High-Temperature Performance

Panasonic is a leader in solar panel manufacturing and has over a century of innovation. It specialises in high-efficiency panels using HJT technology. Panasonic panels are ideal for Australia’s hot environment and offer high-quality solutions that excel in efficiency and high-temperature performance.

6. The best solar panels in 2024.

Finding Australia’s top 10 most popular solar panels can be difficult because popularity depends on regional availability and installer preferences. However, based on information from industry sources and consumer reports, we have identified the most trusted and in-demand solar panels in Australia for 2024.

Most Popular Tier 1 Solar Panels:

1. Trina Solar Vertex S+

Trina Solar remains a top provider of high-quality panels at competitive prices. Their Vertex S+ series has an impressive efficiency of up to 22.5% and durability. Trina’s panels offer a 25-year Performance warranty.

  • Warranty: Up to 25 years product warranty and 30 years power warranty.

  • Efficiency: 21.9 % module efficiency with high-density interconnect technology.

  • Degradation Rate:  1% first-year degradation and 0.4 % annual degradation enabled by N-type technology

2. Q CELLS Q.Peak MAX G9+

Offers panels like the Q.Peak series, known for their efficiency and robust warranty conditions. The Q.Peak MAX G9+ series delivers high efficiency (up to 21.6%) and an excellent temperature coefficient, ensuring good performance in hot climates.

  • Warranty:  Q cells offer a 25-year product warranty and a 25-year linear performance warranty on Q.peak Max. 

  • Efficiency: module efficiency up to 20.6%

  • Degradation Rate:  At least 98% of nominal power during the first year. After that, max. 0.5% degradation per year. At least 93.5% of nominal power up to 10 years. At least 86% of nominal power up to 25 years

3. Jinko Solar Tiger NEO

Jinko Solar is another major player known for its innovative and budget-friendly panels. The Tiger NEO series offers excellent efficiency (up to 22.6%) for a great value.

  • Warranty: 25 Year Product Warranty, 30 Year Linear Power Warranty

  • Efficiency: 22.24%

  • Degradation Rate:  0.40% Annual Degradation Over 30 years

4. REC Alpha Pure Series

Is a respected brand known for its high-performance panels. The Alpha Pure Series utilises HJT cell technology for superior efficiency (up to 22.2%) and excellent power output in low-light conditions.

    1. Warranty: Comes with a comprehensive 25-year product and performance warranty.
    2. Efficiency: Capable of up to 22.2% efficiency, near the top of the market.
    3. Degradation Rate: Ensures 92% performance after 25 years, highlighting its durability and performance over time

5. LONGi Hi-MO 6

LONGi is a Chinese solar giant known for its focus on research and development. The Hi-MO 6 series offers high efficiency (up to 21.3%) and a strong track record for reliability.

    1. Warranty: Provides a maximum of 25 years for both product and performance.
    2. Efficiency: Features up to 23% efficiency, on par with some of the most efficient panels available.
    3. Degradation Rate: Promises 88.9% performance after 25 years

6. SunPower Maxeon 6

SunPower is a premium brand known for its industry-leading efficiency (up to 23.6%) and exceptional durability. While SunPower panels are more expensive, they offer a compelling option for homeowners seeking the best performance.

    1. Warranty: Both product and performance warranties are 40 years, which is exceptional in the solar panel market.
    2. Efficiency: Up to 23%, making it one of the highest in terms of solar panel efficiency.
    3. Degradation Rate: Guarantees 88% performance after 40 years, ensuring long-term reliability and output

7. Winaico WST-NGX-D3

Winaico is a German brand known for its high-quality and robust panels. The WST-NGX-D3 series stands out for its impressive warranty (30 years product, 30 years performance).

  • Warranty: 30-year product guarantee. Linear performance guarantee for 30 years.  
  • Efficiency: Up to 22.3%
  • Degradation Rate: No more than 0.4% degradation per year from 2nd year to 30th year 

8. Solarwatt Vision Pure

Solarwatt is another German brand focusing on quality and innovation. The Vision Pure series offers excellent efficiency (up to 21.6%) and a lengthy warranty (30 years product, 30 years performance).

  • Warranty: 30 Year Product Warranty
  • Efficiency: 20.2 %

Degradation Rate: 30-year performance warranty on 84% of nominal power as per warranty conditions for Solarwatt solar modules

9. Canadian Solar HiHero

  • Warranty: 25 Year Product Warranty, 30-year performance warranty

  • Efficiency: Module efficiency up to 22.5%

  • Degradation Rate: 1st-year power degradation no more than 1% Subsequent annual power degradation no more than 0.35%

10. Hyundai UF Series

  • Warranty: 25-Year Product Warranty.

  • Efficiency: Upto 21.3%

  • Degradation Rate: Linear warranty after second year: with 0.55%p annual degradation, 84.8% is guaranteed up to 25 years

These are just a few examples. The ideal solar panel for your home is determined by your specific requirements and budget. It’s always wise to consult a reputable solar installer to discuss your options and get a customised recommendation.

If We Have To Pay The Sun For the Sunshine, How Much It Would Cost?

The bill would be astronomical if we had to pay the sun for its sunshine! Let’s have a bit of fun with this idea:

The amount of sunshine we receive on Earth is quite significant. The solar constant, which measures solar irradiance at the top of Earth’s atmosphere, is approximately 1370 watts per square meter. However, not all this energy reaches the Earth’s surface due to atmospheric absorption and scattering.

To calculate the value of sunlight received on Earth, we can use the average amount of energy that reaches the surface, which is about 1.4 kilowatts per square meter at peak sunlight. If we were to price this energy, using the same rate of $0.10 per kilowatt-hour, we could estimate the cost of the sun received over a particular area during the peak hours of the day.

For example, if we consider a square meter of the Earth’s surface receiving 1.4 kW for about 12 hours (considering daylight duration), the energy received would be:

1.4kW×12hours=16.8kWh

At $0.10 per kWh, the cost would be:

16.8kWh×$0.10=$1.68

So, for every square meter, the sun would “charge” us $1.68 per day at peak sunlight hours. Multiply this by the Earth’s total surface area that receives sunlight at any given moment,

The Earth’s total surface area is about

510×106 km2

, but only half of this receives sunlight at any given time due to the day-night cycle. So, we’ll use

255×106 km2

for our calculation.

First, let’s convert square kilometres to square meters:

255×106 km2=255×1012 m2

Now, using the cost of $1.68 per square meter per day from our previous conversation:

255×1012 m2×$1.68/m2=$428.4×1012 per day

So, the total “bill” for the sunlight received on Earth would be approximately $428.4 trillion per day.

In perspective, with the world’s total GDP of about $100.562 trillion as of 2022, the daily cost of sunlight would be over four times the annual global GDP. That’s quite an expensive utility bill!

So, Thankfully, the sun doesn’t send us a bill. It’s a good thing sunlight is free, or we’d all be in the dark financially! 😄

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