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Starting Up With Solar Panels

Aug 30, 2008
At USD$800 for a 170 watt solar panel many of us are scared at the cost of buying enough solar panels to power our home. Well, for a home that uses 3Kwh/day it's around USD$14,000; however, we have a secret that can cut down that cost significantly. It happened by "accident" actually. (forgive the pun)

We were driving down Highway 401(Canada's busiest divided highway) and noticed an accident ahead. The driver had crashed into one of those mobile signs which indicate to change lanes. The sign was completely ruined, but the panel which was ON TOP didn't seem to be damaged. We called the company up the following Monday and the receptionist answered "Yes, the signs get hit all the time, and yes, we could probably have the cracked panels after the insurance company looked at them."

BINGO

It turns out that this company installs 5- 65 watt solar panels on each unit. After getting the company approval we toted away 13 slightly damaged solar panels. After we got them home we tested the current on each of them. It turns out that only two of them were damaged beyond being usable. In total we picked up over 200 watts of panels for the price of the gas it cost to drive there!

We've now shown you a source of no-cost solar panels, but we should also know about the different kinds of solar panels because in the last 10 years there have been some amazing advances in this field.

Tried and True Monocrystalline...

For many years monocrystalline solar modules have been the mainstay of the solar market. Those iridescent blue faced panels you have been seeing on rooftops are probably of this type of panels. They have distinct rounded individual solar cells visible from all angles stacked in very uniform rows. This type is produced from a single silicon ingot or crystal. Manufacturing costs are very high because of this process making them the most expensive solar modules on the market. They are, however the most space efficient type of solar panel making them the correct choice when space is at a premium. Monocrystalline cells have a life expectancy far exceeding 25 years, probably over 50 years. The only real problem with this type of cell is it's fragile nature making it a requirement that it be mounted in a very rigid frame.

Polycrystalline...

Polycrystalline modules are manufactured from a block of multi-crystalline silicon. They are usually square and have a varied, almost mosaic-like appearance. Only slightly less efficient than monocrystalline modules they are cheaper to manufacture and thus cost less money. You can expect the same great lifespan as monocrystalline cells too.

Thin Film...

Recently a new product was introduced into the market that could provide some much needed answers for solar power users. Amorphous silicon PV or thin film technology could make rigid solar panels obsolete if some better research is done. Thin film panels are produced by applying silicon material on glass or stainless steel, or more commonly between two pieces of flexible laminate material. Solid or rigid thin film panels are in use by flexible laminated thin film panels are more popular.

The flexible panels can be applied to any surface and sometimes used as roofing material. Most customers like the almost seamless blending of solar panels right into their roof top. Saving you the cost of regular shingles or steel roofing, thin film solar panels are a good choice. These panels are not nearly as efficient at converting light to electricity when compared to mono or polycrystalline solar panels- not nearly by half.

You would need twice the space to accommodate their installation. From a manufacturing standpoint they do absorb light more efficiently though, allowing for a thinner design and less material being used in their manufacture. The real benefit, because less material is needed, is in the simplified manufacturing process resulting in lowered costs to build. The lower price has pushed thin film panels to the lead in price per watt of output.
About the Author
Andrew Oke is very interested in renewable energy.He has 16 years experience living off the grid, and has completely built his own renewable energy system. Visit his website at Living Off The Grid
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