Solar Power Basics

Solar PV cell

The first time solar power caught my attention was way back in the 80’s. I had received a little hand held calculator for joining the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, AOPA.

I remember the satisfaction in being able to tote the thing around for years and never having to replace a single battery. What a revolutionary idea.As time passed, I noticed more frequently that solar powered calculator freebies were the enticement used to get people to sign up to for a subscription or join a club. These little calculators were becoming the next hot item for businesses to give away to a potential customer. Even to the point of surpassing the great toaster promotions that banks had been using for years. Though I never signed up for any offers just to get another calculator, it got me thinking about how solar energy could make people, like myself, feel good about using electricity.

Ricky Wilder

Today, solar power is one of the most considered, discussed, evaluated and implemented forms of small scale electrical production from a renewable energy source. Unlike wind and hydro, solar energy is available to just about anyone. You don’t need to live in a windy pass or beside a river to generate electricity.

Not every site is optimal for all forms of renewable energy. This is especially true for small off grid systems but if anything is going to work, typically it will be solar.

This is really good news because solar has a couple of advantages over wind, the next most common renewable energy producer. First, someone with basic carpentry skills can set the panels up. Second, you can start off with a small system and grow it later as money becomes available and demand increases.

For solar to work properly it needs to be located where the panel array will not be sheltered by tall mountains, buildings or trees.The biggest challenge you will initially face is determining whether you have a site that will meet your needs without depleting your pocketbook.

Types of Solar Panels

The solar panel is what’s at the heart of a photovoltaic system. Photovoltaic is where sunlight is converted into usable electricity. Most solar panels are not one large cell but are made up of a string of silicon cells wired in series to produce the desired output.

Currently there are three types of solar panels commonly available. Two of these, the monocrystalline and polycrystalline, are designed to be supported by a rigid aluminum frame and covered with glass. The third type is a thin film and may be in a rigid or a flexible frame. The panels we most commonly see in use today are the rigid mono and poly crystalline panels that can be mounted either on a roof or ground rack. Thin film panels can be adhered straight onto a metal roof or incorporated into a roof shingle.

The mono and poly crystalline panels are the most durable and have the longest projected life, typically 20 years. Most of the panels warranties covering power output are based on this 20 year life span. The thin film products, while said to be cheaper to produce over the crystalline silicon panels, are questionable in terms of efficiency and longevity. There seem to be new developments in the thin film industry so we will follow it and make updates when substantial improvements are made.

Our Solar Array

Homemade solar pv panel rack

Another piece of equipment you will need is a charge controller. This unit will optimize the power coming from the solar panels and will also keep the panels from over charging the batteries.

You Can Use Solar Power Now!

You can do something about your electrical dependence today! You don’t have to wait around for some new product to be developed. The necessary equipment is sitting on the shelf right now. If you are on the grid and want to offset some of your cost and hedge against future price increases, you can do it today in many areas of the country. If you are off the grid and use a generator or you want to live independent of the big extension cord, it is possible right now.

solar panel array

Solar power is probably the quickest and easiest ways to start using renewable energy. Once it is installed correctly there is not a lot of monkeying around to do with it. Output from the panels can be maximized by making seasonal adjustments. If you don’t want to touch them, they can be installed and remain in an average position for your latitude and their performance will be a few percent lower at various times of the year. These adjustments can even be left to tracking devices if you don’t mind the additional cost and maintenance.

It all depend on the level of personal involvement that you choose. We will go through some of the aspects of owning a solar panel array so you can fully understand the most cost effective ways to utilize what the sun has to offer.

When done right, these boxes of photovoltaic cells can harvest solar radiation for many years. The difficulty level of understanding and installing solar power is quite low. This is what makes it attractive to people who would not attempt to install a wind turbine. Wind power has more risks and complexities than any equivalent solar installation. Solar on the other hand is clean, quiet has now moving parts, and is easy to access. The panels only require occasional cleaning. So instead of debating who’s backyard the coal burning power plant goes into, it would be much easier to plant a field of solar panels.

Solar air conditioning sounds simple – generate electricity from photovoltaic panels to power your AC. But this will cost a fortune, and there are better, cheaper alternatives available. Find out more about solar powered air conditioners from

Return to Home Page From Solar Power