How do solar panels work? – Aotea Store

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How do solar panels work?

With no central power on Aotea, there is a strong reliance on renewable energy. There is extensive use of solar and wind power and a strong ethos of sustainability and environmentally friendly living on the island.

Our manufacturing facilities on Aotea where we produce our whole range of products are powered by solar panels that we also made ourselves. 

What is a solar panel made out of?

A solar panel is made of special materials to convert the energy of sunlight into electrical energy. Solar panels are placed in areas where they absorb maximum sunlight. A solar panel generates electric power, like hydro, coal, oil, natural gas, wind or geothermal.

The fundamental part of a solar panel is a solar cell which converts sunlight into electricity. A solar panel contains many solar cells side by side.

A solar cell is a thin wafer made of silicon and has two layers that have been doped with different elements. The element boron gives a positive charge to one layer and the element phosphorous gives a negative charge to the other layer.

The element silicon is a semiconductor. Semiconductors have many uses, as they fall between an insulator, which conducts no current of electricity, such as glass and ceramics, and conductive materials, which conduct electricity, such as metals. Each solar panel is surrounded by a metal frame, glass casing and a special film. Then there is wiring to connect it to utility electric circuits.

How do solar panels generate electricity?

Solar panels rely on the phenomena of photons to generate electricity. Photons are what the sun radiates as sunlight. A photon is a tiny particle that travels at the speed of light. It has no charge and no resting mass; in other words, it is just an electromagnetic field moving through space.

The electromagnetic force of photons hitting a solar panel mobilises electrons within the solar cell. Recall that the cell is made up of two layers, one with a positive charge and one with a negative charge. This charge difference enables a current of electrons to flow. 

What's the future of solar

Solar energy uses the most renewable source of energy in the world, the sun, to generate electric power. The cost saved from solar power can accumulate the saved expenditure of homes and companies.

These savings can eventually pay off the expensive panels, which are the main cost of installation.The world is in an experimental phase right now with solar. Homes powered entirely by solar energy are being tested for viability. Location and sunlight hours are the biggest factors. The possibility for homes with solar panels to sell the electricity they generate back to electricity retailers also is becoming realistic - the solar panels generate a power supply which is rerouted into the main grid.

An example of this is Lodestone Energy’s 2022/2023 project. They have canvassed five utility solar-farms constructed across Northland, the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. With 500,000+ solar panels, it is a huge project. The power they provide will feed electricity into local networks.

The last week has seen the opening of the country’s largest solar plant so far, the Kapuni Solar Power Plant in South Taranaki. The company that built it, Todd Sunergise, specialises in providing rooftop solar to commercial customers. It was opened days after the opening of South Taranaki’s only windfarm. Four staff will be required for the day-to-day operation of the plant. Local hapū were enormously involved in the process. They were Ngāti Manuhiakai and Ngāti Tū. 

New Zealand sunlight hours suggest solar will have to be part of an energy package, rather than the full deal.

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