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How Do Solar Panels Work? – Solar Panels Simplified

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Everyone knows solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. But how do they actually work? The answer’s not as simple as you might think. While it might look calm, under the surface your solar panels are constantly working, converting one type of energy to another, then another, just to power your home. But to understand how solar panels work, we first need to know what solar panels are made of.

What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

Most modern solar panels are what’s known as Photovoltaic (PV) panels. This means they use the photovoltaic effect to convert light into energy. PV Solar panels are made up of a series of PV cells, each with a limited capacity to generate electricity. Each cell is made of silicon and made up of a positive and negative layer, creating an electric field that helps energy move from one layer to the other. Depending on the kind of solar panel you get, the number of panels, and the size of the panels, your panels will vary in efficiency and durability, as well as how much electricity they can produce. At Solar Galaxy, we use Monocrystalline Perc Panels, a recent innovation in solar panels that uses cells made from single silicon crystals. This improves efficiency and ensures your panels last as long as possible.

The Solar Power Life Cycle

When people talk about “harnessing the Sun’s energy”, what they’re really talking about is converting the photons within the sun’s light into a usable form of energy. This happens quickly in a series of steps from one end of your solar system to the other. Sunlight is captured by your solar panels, sent through your inverter and then into your home’s power grid, where it can be used to run appliances, charge solar batteries, or fed back into the main grid for a solar rebate.

Let’s break this process down step by step

During the day, photons in the sun’s rays hit your solar panels and are captured by the solar power modules and solar PV cells. To capture these photons, each PV cell has a top and bottom layer. By giving the top layer a negative electrical charge and the bottom layer a positive charge, it creates a small electrical field that captures photons. When the photons hit the electrical field, it causes a reaction that sets the electrons into motion and generates electricity.

This tiny but near-instant movement happens over and over, causing DC (Direct Current) electricity to be generated. Unfortunately, while you can use DC electricity, 99% of modern homes and appliances in Australia use AC (Alternating Current) electricity. So energy generated by your panels must be converted by a solar inverter before it can be used.

Solar inverters are one of the most important parts of your solar system. Your solar panels send the DC electricity they generate to a solar inverter, which inverts the current and converts it to AC electricity your home can use. Because of the position it’s in, your inverter can also manage the flow of electricity, monitor system statistics, provide fault and grounding protection, track power use and more. When it comes to solar power, your inverter is just as important as your solar panels, if not more so.

Once your electricity has been converted into AC electricity, it’s ready to use! This process happens over and over and over until your solar panels break down completely. As long as your panels and inverter work, you can keep generating electricity effectively forever!

What’s Next?

If your solar panels are producing more energy than you use, your inverter can also use the electricity to charge a battery or send the electricity back into the grid for a “refund” on your power bills. This is usually referred to as “feed-in tariffs” and is one of the biggest incentives for many homeowners to get solar panels. The money you can get back from solar energy tariffs will change depending on your state and local laws.

For more information on all things solar, read our other blog articles or talk to the team at Solar Galaxy. We’ve been working with solar power systems and panels for years and can answer any questions you have about solar installation, repair, or the systems themselves. Call us today!

How to Clean Solar Panels

how to clean solar panels

Solar panels are serious tech, but they’re super easy to clean. With regular cleaning, your solar panels will perform better, last longer, and look great! If your panels are covered in dust, grime, moss and more, these simple steps will help you get them looking like new again!

  • Make sure it’s nice, cool weather

While cleaning solar panels in the hot sun isn’t pleasant, there’s an important reason for this step. If you’ve ever cleaned your car on a scorching hot day, you’ll know why! Because your solar panels are made of glass they get hot easily, expanding slightly with the heat. Once you splash cold water over the top your solar panels will cool rapidly, and if the difference in temperature is too great they’re likely to crack! This same thing happens with car windows and other glass and is especially common in Australia. The best days to clean your solar panels are days with overcast, cloudy weather, or in the cooler summer evenings.

While your solar panels can handle a bit of water, it’s better to be safe. Completely shutting down your solar panel system will ensure there’s no risk of electrocution and will let you clean your panels without worrying. Your solar panels should shut down from the main switch near your inverter. If you can’t find the shutdown switch, check your manual or contact your installer.

  • Make sure your roof is safe to walk on

If you plan on getting up on your roof to clean your panels, you need to make sure it’s safe. Water can make roof tiles or panels incredibly slippery and turn an otherwise sturdy roof into a hazard. Before cleaning, make sure your roof is safe to work on and you have appropriate safety equipment to stop you from falling. If possible, your best option is to clean your solar panels from the ground using a scrubbing pole or by spraying water on them.

  • Only Clean the Front of Your Solar Panels

Sure, your solar panels are exposed to the elements 24/7, but that doesn’t mean they’re built to handle water everywhere. Cleaning only the top of your panels (the solar cells) will ensure you don’t accidentally get water in places it’s not supposed to be!

  • Scrub With a Cloth and Soap

If there’s still stubborn grime on your panels you can use a cloth and some soap to scrub it off. You don’t need anything special, just remember not to push too hard as it can damage the panels. Following up your soap scrubbing with a rinse and squeegee will leave them sparkling clean! Whatever you do, don’t use a pressure cleaner as this can damage your solar panels. Only in extreme cases of caked-on dirt, mould and moss should you pressure clean, and even then there are better options.

  • Still Dirty? Call a Professional!

If you’ve tried and still can’t get all the dirt off, it might be time to call in the professionals! Professional solar panel cleaners carry a range of tools designed to clean solar panels effectively and safely. If you’re not confident cleaning your panels or don’t have the tools or the time, a professional solar panel cleaner can make the job easy.

Why Clean Your Solar Panels?

Over time your solar panels will collect dust and dirt as it flies through the air and settles on them. While rain will clear off a lot of the dust, some will stick and you will eventually need to clean your solar panels. Cleaning your solar panels will make them look a lot better and can even increase their efficiency in some cases. If your solar panels haven’t been cleaned in a long time, cleaning the dirt off them can increase their efficiency by up to 30%!

How Often Should You Clean Your Solar Panels?

As professionals, we usually recommend cleaning your solar panels once every 6 months. However, this will depend on where you live, the amount of dust in the air, and what angle your panels are installed at. For areas with a lot of air pollution, you may need to clean your panels more often to maintain peak efficiency. If you’re out in the countryside you may only need to clean your panels once a year or so. And if your panels are installed flat they may pick up more dirt than angled panels and will need cleaning more often.

We also recommend reading our popular articles: Are Solar Panels worth it? and How do Solar Panels work?

Are Solar Panels Worth It in 2021? 5 Things You Need to Know Before Going Solar

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People have been asking this question since solar panels became available for general use. At first glance, solar panels might seem like a good idea, but after the initial investment, maintenance costs, and varying efficiency levels, it’s easy to get swept up in the hype and make a questionable investment.

Thankfully, over the years solar panels have become much more efficient as the technology behind them has become more reliable and affordable. While this doesn’t make them a good investment for you on its own, these things have made solar panels more accessible for a lot of Australians. And for most properties, solar is a great investment, and it’s only getting better.

However, with all the different options, factors and benefits in mind, are solar panels worth it for you? Read on to find out!

When determining if solar panels are going to benefit you enough to be worth it, there are a few things to look at first.

  1. Your current electricity usage and bills.
  2. The location of your property and the amount of light you get.
  3. What you can expect to get back from the system.
  4. How much you can invest, and how to pay.
  5. Which installer will give you the best results.

Each of these things can play a huge part in the effectiveness of your system, especially when you start calculating costs with batteries, more powerful inverters and tariffs in mind.

 

  • Electricity Use

The average Australian household uses 19KWh per day, or about $2500 worth of electricity a day. However this isn’t consistent throughout the year, and many homes double this number throughout the coldest and hottest months of the year. How much you pay also depends on where you live and who your energy provider is, so looking at your power bill will usually give you the most accurate info.

All of this is important to know because your average power use will give you a better idea of how big a solar system you’ll need. If you’re just trying to reduce your power bills, a smaller system will do the job. But if you’re looking to erase your power bills completely, or even make money from your solar power system, a larger system might be necessary, or even a system with a battery.

A good place to start is an online solar calculator. Our solar calculator can tell you how much you could save based on your energy use and the size of the system you choose.

  • Solar Energy Generation

Contrary to what you might think, solar panels work depending on how much light there is overall, not how bright the light is. What this means is, you don’t have to live in a sunny area to make the most of solar panels! If you’re installing solar panels, you’ll want them installed where they can get the most light throughout the day based on hours of sunlight, not intensity. For most people, this is the North-facing side of their roof, as the sun shines on this area for the longest time. This is followed by West, East and then South in order. For the best results, you want to place your solar panels in a place where they’ll have complete access to light between 10 am and 4 pm.

If you’re away from home throughout the day and only use power at specific times, a solar battery can help you maximise the effectiveness of your system. With one installed you’ll have access to solar energy at night and at times where your solar panels aren’t generating power. This way, you can charge the battery throughout the day, use that energy at night, and still have excess energy fed back into the power grid for additional savings. Batteries are quite situational, however, so discuss your needs with a qualified installer for a better idea of your returns with a battery.

  • Return On Investment

If you’ve planned out your system properly and have good access to sunlight, you’re almost guaranteed a return on your investment over time. This could look like money you save on your electricity bills, or money you’ve received from tariffs, grid feedback and other incentives. Investing in high-quality equipment will often see your initial investment returned in as little as 2 years, and continue to give you value for up to 25 years. Most panel systems come with a 12-15 years product warranty that guarantees their effectiveness for that length of time, but it’s important to check this when you buy your panels.

  • Investment Costs and Affordability

The initial investment for solar panels is what stops a lot of people from making that leap to solar power. Thankfully, if you’re struggling to justify that upfront expense there are several things you can do. If you’ve done the maths and you’re 100% certain you can make your money back on your investment, many companies and installers offer financing options to help you foot the bill. You can also lease solar panels, which will give you savings and returns, just to a lesser degree as you’re still paying for the lease.

If you’re in a position to pay with cash, either through a cash loan or with your hard-earned money, you’ll make far greater returns on your investment. Additionally, depending on where you live there are solar rebates and tariffs offered by the Australian government that can give you instant returns, with savings around the $4000 mark for most systems. While some of these will vary state by state, you may be able to take advantage of things like the small-scale renewable energy scheme, schemes to specifically help low-income earners, or state-based rebates. You can view current schemes that are running on the Department of Energy website, or talk to a reputable solar panel installer and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Solar energy is incredibly popular these days, and with that has come a huge amount of solar panel installers looking to take a piece of the pie. So how do you choose the right one for your needs?

The first thing you should look for is if the installer is accredited by the Australian Clean Energy Council (CEC). All solar retailers and installers in Australia must comply with the regulations set out by the CEC to be able to offer installation services. If you can’t find evidence of CEC accreditation on an installer’s website, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Most installers will offer free quotes for solar installation, warranties, and other guarantees. Depending on the details, these can be good for you or just included as a way to get you to do business with them. A detailed quote is usually a good indicator of a good installer. Prices shouldn’t be too expensive or too cheap, as both will cost you more either now, or in the long run as your system breaks down and requires repairs.
When it comes to warranties, good installers will offer warranties on the complete system, covering both installation and workmanship. A warranty that has your needs placed first is always a good sign, as long as there are no strange exceptions to the warranty laid out in fine print.

Finally, a good installer will have good customer service, and will keep your needs at the core of their services. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy a solar panel system, and if you do it’s a solid sign to get out of there before you’re pulled in. We also recommend reading our popular articles: How to clean solar panels? and How do Solar Panels work?

Time to Decide!

Now that you know what to look for, you’re well on your way to getting a good solar system for your home. If you still have questions or you’re looking for more information specific to your needs, talk to the experts at Solar Galaxy today. We’re here to help you get the most from your solar panel system and put you on the path to a greener, brighter future.

You can reach us online or call to speak to a solar expert.