Solar Panels: 10 Things You Need To Know [Complete Guide]

how do solar panels work

How Do Solar Panels Work?

A solar power system converts sunlight into power that can be used in the home. Photons in sunlight hit the solar panel and are absorbed by semiconducting materials, such as silicon. Electrons (negatively charged) are knocked loose from their atoms, causing an electric potential difference.

Current starts flowing through the material to cancel the potential and this electricity is captured. Due to the special composition of solar cells, the electrons are only allowed to move in a single direction. An array of solar cells converts solar energy into a usable amount of direct current (DC) electricity. This is then converted to AC electricity by a solar inverter.

What are the different types of solar panels?

There are three main types of solar panels used in Australia:

1. Thin Film Solar Panels

Firstly, let’s cover off thin film solar. Thin film solar panels are manufactured by placing layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate. Depending on the materials used, the efficiency rating of the panels will be from 7%-13%, significantly lower than a normal solar panel, making them very uncommon for residential solar installations. One of the main advantages of thin film solar panels is that they can be flexible, allowing for a wide range of applications.

2. Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline Solar PanelsMonocrystalline solar panels are flat at a microscopic level, which means that they work better than polycrystalline panels in good conditions such as in the laboratory, the desert and in direct sunlight. Monocrystalline panels are typically a little more expensive as they have higher efficiency. Modules such as the LG Solar NeON 2 range are some of the best solar panels available in Australia.

Mono panels have a higher efficiency rating than other panel types, and they are typically made out of the highest-grade silicon. The efficiency rates of the better monocrystalline panels are typically 20-21%, such as the LG NeON R 370W solar panel.

Monocrystalline solar panels have distinctive rounded corners on each of the 60 cells. This creates a little more waste in the manufacturing process compared to polycrystalline panels.

It is also important to know that some of the cheapest panels on the market are monocrystalline panels that are ‘pumped out of China at a dime a dozen’. The type of panel absolutely does not guarantee quality and both mono and poly panels cover the full spectrum from the cheapest to the most expensive.

3. Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline Solar Panels Trina Honey PlusPolycrystalline solar panels are more like cones or pyramids at a microscopic level so they work better in low light environments such as early morning and late afternoon. This means that a polycrystalline solar system will output a little more power earlier in the morning and later in the day, however, a monocrystalline panel will outperform a poly panel during the day, especially when the sun is shining at the right angle directly onto the panels.

To make polycrystalline solar panels, raw silicon is melted and poured into a square mould, which is cooled and cut into perfectly square wafers. Because polycrystalline solar panels use slightly lower silicon purity, polycrystalline solar panels are not quite as efficient as monocrystalline solar panels. Again, this does not mean that all poly panels are in some way inferior, a good quality poly panel will outperform a cheap mono panel, however, it does mean poly panels are generally a little cheaper and not as efficient compared to the better mono panels such as the LG NeON range.

Some of the top-selling solar panels in Australia are the better polycrystalline panels, typically the best residential solar panels manufactured by the top handful of Chinese companies including Trina and Canadian Solar. Solaray has had exceptional results with the Trina Honey range in terms of performance and reliability.

What is the main difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline (mono vs poly) panels?

It is important to stress how little the debate of poly panels vs mono panels matters for a residential solar system. It is an issue that is more relevant for solar farms and larger commercial jobs where a tiny increase in output per panel for a similar investment can result in higher returns.

Important: Almost every other aspect of a solar installation has a greater impact in terms of potential returns on your investment including the orientation of your roof, the angle of the panels, shading and the quality of the panels & the installation.

You’ve heard good things about half-cut solar cells, but what’s the real story?

Although this alternative construction of a solar panel has gotten a lot of press lately, it’s important to remember that it is still in the beginning phases of mass production which leaves far too much room for error when it comes to the big decision of changing how you consume energy in your home.

Half-cut solar cells are exactly what you’d expect from the name. They are your traditional combination of solar cells only cut in half. This cutting process instills reliability issues from doubling internal cell flaws, creating micro-cracks, and increasing the possibility of cell link defects. Without proper testing, investing in this could put a bigger dent in your wallet rather than easing the burden.

It’s important to ensure that your solar panel decision is going to do what you want it to do: power your home, help the environment, and save you money. To make sure of this, you want to choose the solar panel provider that uses reliable, quality, time-tested materials and guaranteed certified installers. This will make sure that your return on investment is all that you’d hoped for and more.

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How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

Have you ever bought something a little too cheap only for it to break the following week?

Buying quality electronics is important. Buying quality solar panels is even more important. Unlike a broken headset, you can’t just toss solar panels in the bin. Furthermore, it’s not like the thousands of dollars you paid for your ‘cheap solar system’ was pocket change!

Made To Be Broken

How long do solar panels last?Some cheap suppliers (you may know who these companies are) make products with a built-in lifespan. This also happens in the solar industry. Cheap solar panels are cheap because the costs involved in making a quality solar panel have been stripped away. This directly impacts the longevity of the panel and it is becoming a serious problem now that so many Australian homes have solar panels that are around 5 years old.

In other industries, a lot of products are built to just last long enough to see out the warranty. From our perspective, it’s even worse in the solar industry. There are so many manufacturers and installers going into liquidation (often popping up the next week under a different name) that there is the genuine risk that if for many cheaper solar panels the warranty isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

solar panel fire riskWe’ve seen panels that fall apart before they’ve even paid for themselves, panels that are installed poorly and get water damage, panels that go brown, and even faulty electronics that can cause a fire. It is really important to buy quality solar panels to ensure longevity.

Choose Quality Products To Maximise Your System’s Life:

The better solar panels such as the LG NeON range come with a 25-year product warranty, a full 15 years longer than the industry average. These better panels typically last over 30 years, and there are a number of German manufacturers that have now been around long enough to back up that claim.

How Big Is A Solar Panel

A residential solar panel is 60 cells. The main solar panels on the market are all within a few centimetres of each other and are typically 1.7 meters tall by 1 meter wide.

There are also commercial solar panels that are 72 cells. These panels have an extra row of cells which makes the panels around 2m tall. These panels are not appropriate for a residential installation and so they are not something we offer.

How Much Room Do I Need On My Roof For Solar Panels?

How Much Room Do I Need On My Roof For Solar Panels?Solar panels are installed in rows and within each row solar panels are installed up against each other. Allow 1m per panel in a row and a little on each side. We normally like to see a little gap between each row of panels, so as an example allow at least approximately 3.5 meters for two rows. We need to have space for rainwater to fall off the panels onto your roof before it hits the gutter, so allow some space under the bottom of the array. If you have a tile roof, we often can’t lift up the top 2 or 3 rows of tiles without them breaking, so we would normally need a gap of around 3 rows of tiles from the top of your roof. Solar panels can’t be installed above any roof lines.

What are the best solar panels, and what should I be looking for?

The Solar Panels are the heart of any solar system. Whilst there are hundreds of brands of solar panels on the market, there are now only about 6 global manufacturers that make almost all of the good quality panels available in Australia.

Solaray only selects preferred suppliers that meet our strict standards, which is why we normally offer 2 or 3 options at the most, and will never offer you a panel from the cheaper end of the market. The supplier must:

  • Manufacture their own products in their own factories
  • Have a local office in Australia to provide warranty and other support
  • Conduct Research and Development and show a level of technology leadership
  • Have been manufacturing and supplying solar panels for at least 10 years
  • Have the financial and market strength to be able to honour the long-term warranty
  • Have commercial scale and solar farm reference sites.

As with most industries that have grown rapidly in the past (such as televisions, computers, cars etc), we are starting to see a growing consolidation in the number of manufacturers and it is likely that within the next few years, we will see the industry dominated by the top handful of suppliers. For this reason alone, it is worth selecting panels from any one of the world’s leading brands rather than the smaller or newer ones.

The best panels available in Australia are the NeON range from LG. There is a NeON 2 panel and a NeON R panel. The NeON R is the best on the market with an incredible 370W rating per panel and a 25-year product warranty backed by LG. More information is available here: LG Solar Panels

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What is the solar panel warranty and who holds it?

Most solar panels come with two warranties; a 25-year power output warranty and 10-year product warranty. LG Solar panels now come with a 25-year product warranty, once again leading the industry. This warranty is 15-years longer than the industry average.

The 25 Year Solar Panel Power Output Warranty

Solar panels drop off in output over time, and they do so at different rates. A solar panel’s performance warranty will typically guarantee 90% production after 10 years and 80% after 25 years. This warranty does not cover your panels if one of them breaks or stops working. Buying better quality solar panels usually means a better power output warranty. This is the protection our customers get when they buy LG NeON panels, there is a significant difference:

LG Solar Warranty

Solar Panel Product Warranty

The solar panel product warranty covers you from panel defects, premature wear and tear, issues from the manufacturing process etc. Nearly all solar panels on the market come with a 10-year warranty, as mentioned above, LG Solar is now offering a 25-year product warranty.

The ultimate responsibility for the warranty is held by the manufacturer as well as the importer (if they are not the same), which is why we only sell brands with an Australian office. In the rare event that you have a warranty claim, Solaray will, of course, be your point of contact and we will arrange with the manufacturer the repair or replacement of any faulty product.

Do you sell any Australian Made solar panels?

Unfortunately, global market conditions have made it difficult for an Australian company to compete in this extremely competitive market. As far as we (and The Business Spectator) understand, Tindo is currently the only Australian manufacturer of solar panels. Anything else you hear is misleading marketing at best.

Australian quality, made for Australian conditions etc. are taglines used for marketing, some of which have been deemed illegal by the ACCC. More info on that here:

If you have anyone try to sell you panels under the guise that they are Australian Made please ask for clarification and if necessary report the issue to the relevant authority.

Do you sell any German Made solar panels?

Firstly, because solar panels were designed in Germany all solar manufacturers are able to claim that their product is ‘German engineered’ or ‘German designed’. It has become a marketing line that certain types of manufacturers use to try and improve the perception of their products.

There are no longer any genuine German manufacturers making their panels in Germany for the Australian market. We have previously had strong relationships with Bosch, Q Cells and SolarWorld. More information is available here: The Truth About German Solar Panels.

If you have received a quote for a panel that is claiming a relationship to Germany, or even Europe please read between the lines! German quality, German designed etc. are tag lines we see used continuously in product marketing, some of which have been deemed illegal by the ACCC.

German solar panels scam

A quick look at the manufacturer’s website is a good idea, and the price is often a great indication of what you are buying. Please don’t think you are buying top of the range German solar panel the system is significantly cheaper than the other quotes you have collected.

More information is available here: The Truth About German Solar Panels

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Solaray Solar Power Guide

Where to next?

<==  1. General Solar Power Information

==> 3. Inverters

==> 4. Installation

==> 5. Pitfalls of Solar