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How Do Solar Panels Work? (Video)

Planet Earth intercepts a lot of solar power upto 173,000 terawatts. That’s 10,000 times more power than the planet’s population uses.

So is it possible that one day the world could be completely reliant on solar energy?

A photovoltaic module is a packaged, connected assembly of typically 6×10 cells.

Photovoltaic panels constitute the array of a photovoltaic system that generates and supplies solar electricity in commercial and residential applications.

Each module is rated by its DC output power under standard test conditions, and typically ranges from 100 to 365 watts.

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The efficiency of a module determines the area of a module given the same rated output – an 8% efficient 230 watt module will have twice the area of a 16% efficient 230 watt module. Now, there are a few panels available that are exceeding 19% efficiency.

A single solar module can produce only a limited amount of power; most installations contain multiple modules. A photovoltaic system typically includes a panel or an array of solar modules, inverter, and sometimes a battery and/or tracker and interconnection wiring.

The price of PV power, together with batteries for storage, has continued to fall so that in many countries it is cheaper than ordinary fossil fuel electricity from the grid (there is “grid parity”).

Most parts of a solar module can be recycled including up to 97% of certain semiconductor materials or the glass as well as large amounts of ferrous and nonferrous metals. Some private companies and nonprofit organizations are currently engaged in takeback and recycling operations for end-of-life modules.

Historically, the US had been the leader of installed photovoltaics for many years, and its total capacity amounted to 77 megawatts in 1996—more than any other country in the world at the time. Then, Japan stayed ahead as the world’s leader of produced solar electricity until 2005, when Germany took the lead.

The country is currently approaching the 40,000 megawatt mark. China is expected to continue its rapid growth and to triple its PV capacity to 70,000 megawatts by 2017, becoming the world’s largest producer of photovoltaic power any time soon.

In this TED video Richard Komp examines how panels convert solar energy to electrical energy.