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Solar Energy Panels

As one of the most popular forms of renewable energy, solar panels offer tangible benefits for the homeowner and the environment.

For the homeowner, solar panels deliver a reduction in heating and electricity bills.

Do your part for the environment; solar energy represents a cleaner, greener alternative to fossil fuels. Solar panels emit no carbon dioxide as they operate, helping the planet to minimise its carbon footprint.

At Ashwood Solar & Renewable Energies, we aim to provide all the information you need to make an informed decision on the feasibility of solar energy for your home. We'll explain the types of solar panels available, how they work and how you can benefit from each type of solar energy panel.

Monocrystalline Solar Cells

These are made from thin wafers of silicon, sliced from large crystals that have been grown under carefully controlled conditions.

Typically, the cells are a few inches across, and a number of cells are laid out in a grid to create a panel.

Relative to the other types of cells, they have a high efficiency, meaning you will obtain more electricity from a given area of panel.

This is useful if you only have a limited area for mounting your panels, or want to keep the installation small for aesthetic reasons. However, growing large crystals of silicon is a difficult and very energy-intensive process, so the production costs for this type of panel have historically been very high.

Production methods have improved though, and prices have fallen a great deal over the years, partly driven by competition as other types of panel have been produced.

Polycrystalline solar cells

It is cheaper to produce silicon wafers in polycrystalline form, as the conditions for growth do not need to be as tightly controlled. In this form, a number of interlocking silicon crystals grows together. Panels based on these cells are cheaper per unit area than monocrystalline panels - but they are also less efficient. In terms of pounds-per-watt, there is not a great deal of difference between the panels.

Amorphous Solar Panels

The newest type of panel is based on amorphous silicon. Here, the silicon atoms are not ordered in a crystal lattice at all.

The production methods are quite different - instead of growing crystals, the silicon is deposited in a very thin layer on to a backing substrate. Sometimes several layers of silicon, doped in slightly different ways to respond to different wavelengths of light, are laid on top of one another to improve the efficiency.

The production methods are complex, but less energy intensive than crystalline panels, and prices should come down, as panels are mass-produced using this process.

One advantage of using very thin layers of silicon is that the panels can be made flexible. Panels are available that can be curved to the bend in a roof for example, or even attached to a flexible backing sheet so that they can be rolled up and put away when they are not needed! The disadvantage of amorphous panels is that they are not as efficient per unit area as monocrystalline panels - typically you would need nearly double the panel area for the same power output. Having said that, for a given power rating, they do perform better at low light levels than crystalline panels - which are worth having on a dismal winter's day.

At least one manufacturer now produces a hybrid panel, where a layer of amorphous silicon is deposited on top of single crystal wafers. This gives some of the advantages (high power, but still efficient at low light levels) - and some of the disadvantages (not flexible and relatively high price) of the different types of panels.

Photovoltaic Solar Panels

Photovoltaic (PV) or solar electric can offer us all the ability to generate electricity in a clean, quiet and renewable way. The variety of applications for solar electric is enormous.

Photovoltaic (PV) cells are used in simple applications e.g. calculators and watches and also for domestic and larger applications. Large PV systems can be integrated into buildings to generate electricity for export to the National grid.

PV applications today are more commonplace than we might expect. Domestic burglar alarm systems are now fitted with PV panels to charge the battery for the system. In Milton Keynes, parking meters are powered by solar panels.

Many leisure activities are today turning to PV panels for back up electricity, including TV, lighting in caravans and nautical instruments.

The daylight needed is free, but the cost of equipment can take many years before receiving any payback. However, in remote areas where grid connection is expensive, PV can be the most cost effective power source.

Passive solar

The use of passive solar design is possibly the simplest form of solar energy. Many buildings today are designed to utilise the energy of the sun as efficiently as possible.

The location and orientation of the building are all key factors in optimising passive solar design.

Passive solar design can be best applied in new buildings, where the orientation of the building, the size and position of the glazed areas, the density of buildings within an area, and materials used for the remainder of the structure are designed to maximise free solar gains.

Designing a property maximum free solar energy & heating gain does not need to add extra cost to the price of construction.

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