As more Australian households and businesses turn to solar power as a sustainable energy solution, photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are appearing on rooftops across the country. The ability to generate clean, renewable electricity directly from sunlight transforms how we meet our energy needs.
But what exactly enables these ingenious devices to convert the sun’s rays into usable power? And how much energy can you expect a solar panel system to produce for your home or office realistically?
In this guide, we’ll delve into the components and workings of solar panels to understand how they leverage the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity. We’ll also discuss the key factors impacting their efficiency and explore realistic capacity considerations to gain a clear picture of solar panel energy production. By becoming familiar with this technology, you can make informed decisions when harnessing the sun’s power.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar PV panels are made up of many individual solar cells wired together. These solar cells consist of two thin layers of semiconducting material, usually silicon. When sunlight hits the solar cell, the photons from the light energise the electrons in the semiconductor material. This frees up the electrons to flow through the material and produce DC electric current.
The PV cell has an electric field running through it, which acts to force the freed electrons in one direction, causing them to flow in a single direction and produce electricity. Metal conductive plates on the cell collect and channel this DC current, which then runs through wires to the other solar cells in the panel.
All the DC current generated by the individual solar cells together forms the electrical output of the entire solar panel. This DC current then travels through an inverter, which converts it into an AC current that can power home appliances and lighting. By connecting multiple panels together into an array, higher capacities can be achieved to meet electricity needs. So, in short, solar panels generate green, renewable electricity directly from sunlight via the photovoltaic effect.
Typical Solar Panel Output Capacity
When it comes to solar panels, their electricity-generating capacity is measured in watts. Residential solar panel system sizes are typically 5-12 kilowatts (5,000 – 12,000 watts).
On their own, individual solar panels usually range in capacity from 250-400 watts each. To achieve a system size capable of meeting household energy needs, multiple panels are wired together into an array. For example, a 10-kilowatt system would comprise around 25 panels.
The exact energy output of a solar array over a year is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) produced annually. The average solar panel system generates around 1,500 kWh per year for each kilowatt of its rated capacity. So, a 5 kW system would produce roughly 7,500 kWh annually.
Energy Use of an Average Australian Household
So, how much power does a typical Australian household consume? According to the Australian Energy Market Commission, the average annual electricity usage for a residential customer is around 5,000 and 7,000 kWh per year. This equates to about 18 kWh of energy consumption per day across all electric appliances, lighting, heating/cooling systems, and other uses in the home.
Of course, actual energy needs can vary significantly based on the size of the home, the number of residents, and specific appliances used. Larger households with big energy draw like air conditioners, pools, and electric vehicle charging have higher consumption. Smaller eco-conscious homes use less.
During sunnier months, daily usage averages 10-15 kWh since more sunlight reduces lighting needs and air conditioner use. But in winter, consumption can spike to 25 kWh per day with heaters and lights on more. Understanding your unique home usage pattern helps determine what solar panel system capacity makes sense for offsetting your grid power demands.
With the average home using around 5,000 kWh per year, a 5 kW solar system in an optimal sun location could potentially supply most of a household’s electricity consumption directly from sunlight.
What Impacts Solar Panel Efficiency
The amount of electricity a solar panel can generate is influenced by several key factors. Maximising efficiency ensures your solar array produces the highest possible energy output.
Solar Cell Efficiency
The photovoltaic solar cells within the panels directly determine efficiency. Monocrystalline silicon cells reach around 20% efficiency, while polycrystalline are 16-17% efficient.
Facing solar panels directly north (in Australia) maximises exposure to the sun’s path and increases energy production.
The optimal tilt angle depends on location, but angling panels 10-30 degrees boosts efficiency. Adjustable tilt mountings can further optimise the angle.
Even small amounts of shading from trees, chimneys or other obstacles can significantly reduce solar panel output.
Hotter operating temperatures cause panel efficiency to drop slightly. Proper airflow can help keep panels cooler.
Keeping panels clean of dust, dirt, and debris will ensure they absorb the maximum amount of sunlight.
Storing Solar Energy With Batteries
One limitation of solar power is that it is produced during daylight hours when the sun is shining. What happens when solar electricity is needed at night? This is where solar batteries come in.
By pairing solar panels with a home battery storage system, excess solar electricity generated during the day can be stored for use anytime — even at night. Popular lithium-ion batteries for solar energy storage range from 5-20 kWh capacities.
During the day, solar electricity first supplies the home’s immediate needs. Any excess gets stored in the batteries. At night or during grid outages, the house can run off the stored solar energy reserve in the batteries.
With sufficient battery capacity, a home can potentially disconnect from the grid entirely and become 100% solar-reliant, utilising solar panel generation combined with battery storage. For grid-connected homes, stored solar energy reduces the amount of conventional electricity needed by the utility company.
Start Harnessing The Power of Solar Energy
We hope this comprehensive guide has helped explain exactly how innovative solar photovoltaic systems can convert the sun’s abundant rays into clean, renewable electricity. With the power to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, solar energy represents an important sustainable technology essential to transitioning to a greener future.
By taking advantage of solar’s immense potential as a clean energy source, Australian households and businesses can reduce their carbon footprint and electricity bills. But realising the full benefits of solar power requires appropriately sizing your system and maximising the efficiency of your solar panels.
Your Electrical Expert has the expertise to help homeowners and businesses determine your ideal solar PV system sizing and seamlessly install your solar panels, inverters, and battery storage solutions. Our experienced technicians can also perform system maintenance and resolve any issues.
Solar power is an investment that pays dividends for years to come. Contact us today to start your journey with solar energy, and we’ll help you harness the renewable power of the sun. A brighter, sustainable future is within reach, one solar panel at a time.