The Ultimate Guide to Buying Solar Panels

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The Ultimate Guide to Buying Solar Panels

Energy is required in every sphere of life, be it in industry or at home. For many years, energy has been derived from burning fossil fuels, but this resource is not inexhaustible, and concerns have arisen about the fuels running out. Moreover, burning fossil fuels is not environmentally friendly, because it generates CO2 emissions that pollute the air and eventually break down the ozone layer. Therefore, alternative energy sources should be implemented, and modern technology has made this possible. Solar panels are designed to absorb the radiation coming from the sun and transform it into energy, which, in turn, creates heat or electricity. As a result, solar panels are a good way to make the most of nature by using the advances of technology. They are a special type of electronics that allow everyone to  invest in the well-being of the world.

Although they are not yet used very widely, solar panels are becoming more popular, and increasingly more people benefit from this green energy solution, which also helps to save them money regardless of high initial costs. Solar panels cannot be found in every supermarket or corner shop, but they can be conveniently purchased from online auction sites, such as eBay. When buying solar panels, it is essential to know how they work and what types are available.

Solar Panels Explained

Solar panels are large panels that are installed onto the roof. They function best if they are not in shadow, but are exposed to the sun most of the time. Therefore, they are often installed facing in a southern direction. The panels take the sun's rays and transform them into energy that can then be used in order to power or heat a house. In addition, smaller solar panels, which can be taken on camping trips, are also produced.

Solar panels contain photovoltaic cells, or solar cells, that have a photovoltaic effect, transforming light into energy. The electrons absorb the energy, become excited, and thus jump to the conduction band. The electrons are accelerated, and as a result, electromotive force, or energy, is generated. The cells are sometimes connected with each other in series in order to achieve the desired output. Alternatively, they are connected in parallel in order to achieve the necessary current capability.

The solar cells are usually rigid, in order to keep them safe from moisture and mechanical damage. Besides the panels themselves, solar energy systems also require some other parts, such as interconnection wiring, a solar tracker or battery, and an inverter.

Solar Panel Types

The main purpose of solar panels is to generate energy from the sun's rays, but there are different types of panels that create slightly different kinds of energy. The energy can be used for electricity or heating. Therefore, the two types are photovoltaic panels and water heating systems. In addition, portable solar panels are also produced, and these can be taken virtually anywhere.

Solar Photovoltaic Panels

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels use the sun in order to create electricity, which can then be used in order to power the house. Energy is derived during the day, and there is no need for direct sunshine, although this enhances electricity production, and ideally, PV panels should be installed in an unshaded location. Compared to traditional gas and electric systems, they do cost more, but help to reduce bills in the long run. The panels are rather heavy and thus require a strong roof.

These panels are made from silicon. In total, there are four types of silicon that can be used for this application. The silicon types differ in terms of their cuts and treatment technologies. Amorphous, monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and hybrid silicon are the materials available. Amorphous cells are composed of  a thin layer of silicon that is sprayed onto a backing material. Thanks to its thinness, the material does not cost much. Hybrid cells, which combine crystalline cells with thin film, are the most efficient, but they also cost the most. Monocrystalline silicon is considered to be more efficient than polycrystalline. Efficiency is a matter of  the amount of the sun's energy that is being used by the system per unit area. The efficiency of hybrid panels is over 17 per cent, while for monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon, it is 13-17 and 11 percent, respectively.

Solar Water Heating Systems

Solar water heating systems, or solar thermal systems, heat water, which is then used around the house. A typical system usually meets about a third of a household's water needs. The system consists of solar panels as well as pipes and collectors, in which the heated water is stored. The size of the area that should be covered with solar panels depends on the efficiency of the collector. If it is less efficient, a larger area should be covered. A rough estimate is that for each person in a household, one square metre of collector area is required. In the water tank, this is about 30 or 60 litres of volume. As with all solar panels, the initial costs are relatively high, but as there is no or very little maintenance required, installing the solar panels pays off quickly.

Two main types of solar water heating systems are available; evacuated tubes and flat plates. Evacuated tubes are considered more efficient. Between the tubes, vacuum is created and this functions as an insulator that prevents heat loss. Therefore, these can also provide hot water during winter when it is cold outside. These tubes are generally made of strong glass and covered with special coatings that enhance their absorbing properties. Flat plate solar collectors are, as the name implies, large flat devices. They absorb solar radiation and transform it into heat by warming the coolant, the water inside the panel.

Water heating systems also contain a drainback system that drains water from inside the panel in case the pump is switched off. The water is collected in a small bottle. This prevents the water from boiling or freezing, and as a result, there is no need for antifreeze.

Portable Solar Panels

The two aforementioned types of solar panels are installed onto the roof, but smaller panels also exist. They are portable and can be used for camping purposes. They give users the freedom to recharge their phones, or to power other devices wherever they go. They are small and usually foldable, so they do not take up too much space in a backpack. When made for camping, they are weather-resistant.

Solar Panel Jargon

When buying solar panels, one may be faced with many unfamiliar terms that relate to the product and how it works. The following table lists some widely used terms connected with solar panels.

Term

Definition

Active solar

Capturing the sun's energy with a collector (solar panel) and converting it to electricity, or using it for heating water

kWp

Kilowatt peak

A unit of measurement that measures the maximum amount of power the solar panels can generate

The value is lower on an overcast day

MCS

Microgeneration Certification Scheme

An internationally recognised quality assurance scheme for solar panels and other technologies that are used for producing heat and electricity from renewable resources

Microgeneration

Property of equipment that generates electricity in the amount of up to 50 kW

Low-capacity

Passive solar

Collecting the sun's energy without a collector or solar panel; large windows that face in a southerly direction help to heat up a room, and so does proper insulation

Pressurised system

A solar water heating system, in which water is pumped through the solar panel and then heated; the heated water goes through a heat exchanger, where water stored in a cylinder is then heated

Solar tiles

Small solar panels that look like roof tiles and use the same technology as photovoltaic solar cells

Solar water heating

Warming water with solar energy by pumping it through a solar panel

These are only some of the terms that are related to solar panels. When one becomes thoroughly involved in the buying process, some other terms and expressions may arise. Moreover, each country has different certifications and organisations that regulate the solar panel business and ensure safety.

Buying Solar Panels on eBay

When looking for a solar panel on eBay for great deals, the easiest way is to type the keywords into the search box that you can find at the top of any eBay page. In the search terms, you can specify whether you need a photovoltaic or water heating system, or whether you are after a small portable solar panel. If you wish to receive more search results, use the general terms and sort the results later. You may do so by setting the item's condition, or sorting the list in terms of price or auction time. If the first search does not yield the results you require, try clicking on some of the related searches.

If you buy a solar panel that you are going to install onto the roof, it is likely to be rather large. Sending it by post may be costly, so it may be useful to look for a local seller who agrees to arrange for you to pick it up. This way, you can save on delivery costs and meet the seller yourself. You can also discuss the installation of panels, should you have any questions. Of course, you can address all such questions before making the purchase as well, if you contact the seller.

Conclusion

In today's world, people are looking for ways to conserve energy and cut their costs. Solar panels are one way to do so. Although the initial costs may be relatively high, solar panels pay off in the long term, and thanks to being environmentally friendly, they also help to save the planet. Solar panels transform the sun's radiation into electricity or heat. By and large, there are two main systems used in homes. Photovoltaic solar panel systems use daylight, not necessarily sunshine, to generate electricity via panels made of silicon. Amorphous, monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and hybrid silicone are the common materials used, with hybrid being the most efficient in terms of the amount of energy produced. Solar water heating systems, either flat plate or evacuated tubes, warm water that is then used around the house. Up to a third of hot water usage can be covered by such systems in average households.

Besides the huge panels that are mounted onto the roof, portable solar panels are also produced. They allow users to recharge electronic devices while camping, and are generally lightweight. Buying a solar panel is an important decision, and when doing so, it is helpful to know the relevant terminology in order to understand what the product is all about.

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