Solar panels are used to gather solar energy from the sun. Solar panels help maintain a clean and sustainable environment; using solar panels to gather the sunlight is a type of renewable energy. After collecting sunlight, the panels convert the energy into electricity. The surface of each panel is composed of solar cells, or photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic cells assist in the conversion of sunlight into electricity. The solar cells use semiconductor substances to conduct electricity; silicon is the most common material that is used. Silicon is used because it is a very plentiful element and can be used without harming the environment (Solar Panels). Solar panels are made up of polysilicon (Solar Panel Info). With solar panels becoming more popular, people need to be aware of how solar panels are helpful to the environment, how they work, and the pros and cons to using solar panels.
Solar panels work best if positioned in certain places. They perform well if positioned on rooftops and building tops; solar panels should be placed in places that receive the most sunlight. Direct sunlight is the most efficient way to collect solar energy (Solar Power Info). In the northern hemisphere, the solar panels should be positioned facing south, to maximize exposure to direct sunlight as the sun crosses the southern sky. Likewise, in the southern hemisphere solar panels should face north.
Despite the problems with the shade affecting the efficiency of solar panels, solar panels are increasing in popularity. There is an increasing demand for solar panels due to the high cost of traditional forms of generating electricity. The most important ingredient for producing solar panels is silicon. However, silicon is increasingly in short supply and becoming more costly because of the high demand; the boom in solar power has resulted in this shortage. Ever since the middle of the 1990s, the solar industry has increased, exceeding 30 percent growth a year; just recently, the increase of the industry has been as high as 50 percent (Arnoldy, 2008, p.25). Since there is a high demand for silicon, the prices have shot up tremendously. Now in 2008, the price of silicon is at $200 a kilogram, which is about 500 percent of what the price was in 2004 (Thilmany, 2007, p.8). For example, a company based out of Lancaster, PA, the SunLion, is struggling to satisfy all the customers who want to install solar panels because panels are becoming more and more popular (Rutter, 2008, p.D1).
The silicon shortage caused prices to skyrocket; however, now, the supply of silicon has increased and as a result, the manufacturing of solar panels will increase. In 2007, over 25 thousand tons of silicon was available for manufacturing and it is predicted that by 2010, the silicon available for manufacture will total over 75 thousand tons. By looking over the data on the average price per watt of Solar Panel graph, in 2003 the average price per watt started to increase and by 2006, it peaked at over $3.75. After that, the average price per watt started to decrease and because of these results, observers have stated that the price for silicon manufacturing will decrease (Bullis, 2008, p.22).
There is one type of solar panel that has been created to cut back the cost of the solar panel system. These new panels have been devised to lower the cost of gathering the sunlight. The panels are called heliotubes and they are supposed to develop the new solar conductors. These conductors use sun tracking devices or dishes to gather the light from the sun. One heliotube consists of 10 motorized lenses that gather sunlight onto a photovoltaic material. Each panel has a layer of photovoltaic material surrounding the surface of the panel. The photovoltaic material is able to produce about 175 watts of electricity since all the sunlight is focused on the material. Each strip of the photovoltaic material is about 1.8 m² panel; since this photovoltaic panel is one-eighth as expensive as the typical panel, these photovoltaic panels can reduce the cost of solar power. Twice the amount of room is needed for these dishes because they are bigger than the regular flat panels; however, both the dishes and the panels gather the same amount of sunlight required for the solar panels to be efficient. These dishes are not pointed towards the sun; they do not need to face the sun since the dishes themselves produce the energy needed to keep the motor inside the dish moving and to stay in position (Graham-Rowe, 2006, 32).
There are advantages and disadvantages to using solar panels. Some of the advantages are that solar panels help to keep the environment clean and they produce absolutely no pollution. Using solar panels reduces the dependence on the power grid system. Unlike fossil fuels, solar power is very abundant and will remain a renewable energy for millions of years to come. Another advantage is the portable solar panel; this type of panel can power solar-powered laptops and calculators.
The main disadvantage of solar panels is that they are one of the more expensive types of renewable energy; with time, the solar panel demand will surpass the supply. Solar panels take up a lot more space than other types of power plants, such as nuclear power plants (Solar Power Info). Efficiency also needs to improve.
A second disadvantage of solar electric systems is that they must be protected from mechanical damage (in particular against hail impact, wind and snow loads, ice). This is especially important for wafer-based silicon cells which are brittle.
The average cost for a typical solar panel system is $25,000. There are two types of solar panel systems: solar thermal system and the solar electric system. The solar thermal system is less expensive than solar electric systems. Solar thermal systems can cost as little as $7,700, but a typical solar electric system costs about $44,000. So, the costs can vary greatly. Even though the prices seem to overshadow the benefits of solar panels, rebates are offered with the installation of solar panels (Rutter, 2008, D1). According to Ingold (B-03), the rebates may be beneficial to a certain degree, but some homeowners may have to pay up to $10,000 which still leaves a hole in the pockets of many.
Cities around the country are trying to go all solar from Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania to cities in Colorado. Pittsburgh is looking to make the entire city solar powered. A panel of nine members has been meeting since September of 2007 discussing ways to make solar power more affordable for interested consumers. The Department of Energy knighted Pittsburgh one of the few "Solar America" cities. However, Pittsburgh has to develop a “full implementation plan” by the middle of 2009 and before beginning, city officials have to boost awareness about the different options that are available for using solar power. The biggest struggle will be to devise a plan to make solar power more affordable. Lord (2008) stated that one of the first changes to be made in the city of Pittsburgh will be to restate their zoning laws so that solar power is included in the law (Lord, 2008, p.B1).
With the House Bill 1350, Colorado homeowners will have the opportunity to install solar panels under a financed program set up by the local governments. Both the local and city governments will have the authority to decide how to finance this program. Rebates will be offered to defer the cost of about one-half of the initial cost. Even with the rebates many homeowners are still turned off by the cost. The city governments are able to decide how to finance this program in a suitable way for each city. Under the House Bill 1350, homeowners will be issued bonds that will reimburse the homeowners over years to come (Ingold, 2008, p.B3).
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Retrieved October 1, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.