We all have probably seen a solar panel, on the shelves in the big box stores, on the roof of RVs, sticking up on a pole near an oilwell site, or on the roof of a residential or commercial structure.
Photovoltaic cells, or solar panels as they are more commonly known, are a modern piece of technology that takes energy from the sun and converts it into electrical energy in the form of Direct Current.
Direct current is the type of electricity that we are familiar with in our vehicles and in our travel trailers. The big advantage of direct current is that it can be stored.
So how do they work? Without getting into an expose’ rich in technical jargon; let’s just explain it this way.
Photons emitted from the sun strike the specially prepared silicon cells of the solar panel; this in turn causes electrons to move in the silicon in one direction.
This unidirectional movement of electrons is what we call electricity, and in the past one hundred plus years we have learned many constructive ways to harness its use.
If you heat with wood and light your house with gas or oil lamps, have no need of refrigeration, have no radio or television, you might not need electricity but for the rest of us it has become a necessity of life.
Solar panels come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and purposes.
They can be utilized separately or in large groups of panels called arrays.
Photovoltaic’s provide water pumping for stock in rural areas, keep the batteries charged up on your quad or RV, power your home, reduce your home power bill if you are connected to the power grid (inverter required), and even supply commercial buildings with some or all of the power they need.
They do it cost free once installed, can withstand a one inch hailstone, and with a twenty five year warranty, produce power dependably for a long period of time.
If the sun shines they make power, the clearer the skies, the colder the temperature, the more power is produced.
So what is the average cost savings of a system in central Alberta?
We know from environmental studies which provided us with “insolation tables” that at our latitude of approximately 52° north we receive, as an average, between 5.8 and 8.5 kilowatt hours per square meter of solar panel.
So say, on an average day in June if power was selling for $0.20 per kilowatt hour then one 160 watt panel ( 1.107 m²) would produce 8.5 X .20 = $1.70, for that day.
Now most arrays are 10 panels or more so for a 20 panel array you would have $34.00 worth of electricity produced from the sun.
If tied into the grid you would be credited this amount by your meter turning backwards, and subsequently you’re hydro bill.
Not bad for one summer day.
With solar panels now ranging from as low as $3.57 per watt no wonder Ontario is promoting green power!
Lorne Oja is an energy consultant, power engineer and a partner in a company that installs solar panels, wind turbines and energy control products in Central Alberta. He built his first off-grid home in 2003 and is in the planning stage for his second. His column appears every second Friday in the Advocate. Oja, who lives in west Central Alberta, can be contacted at email@example.com