Solar energy, like any unique science or field of knowledge, offers new terms along with expanded definitions of already familiar vocabulary. Solar modules in particular are core to understanding solar technology as this term is often used interchangeably with solar panels, and solar panels are the way most homeowners interact with renewable energy.
Understanding these terms makes it easier to comprehend how solar technology works, the advancements in the field, and how it can all come together to create a renewable energy source for your home.
Basic Solar Terminology
A solar module is a single photovoltaic (PV) panel consisting of a collection of individual solar cells all connected together. This means solar module is synonymous with solar panel in many instances, and the terms are often used interchangeably.
A solar panel, in the context of solar energy production, is the constructed material. The panels are typically assembled in a metal frame that includes individual solar cells wired together and then covered in glass or plastic to protect the module from damage and harsh weather conditions.
A solar cell is a semiconductor. This means it conducts electricity—less than metal and more than an insulator (like plastic or rubber).
A semiconductor, most frequently made of silicon for solar technology, allows photons from the sun’s rays to be absorbed, dislodging electrons so they are free to attach to metal conductors at the positive and negative sides of a solar cell, forming an electrical circuit. When electrons flow through such a circuit, they generate electricity which can be immediately consumed or stored for future use.
Silicon is a naturally occurring crystalline element in the earth’s crust which is easily extracted from sand. It is then refined in a chemical process which connects silicon atoms into a lattice-like structure capable of conducting electricity. These silicon solar cells make it possible to convert light radiation from the sun into efficient electrical current.
A conductor is used to connect solar cells together and to form an electrical circuit. The conductors are usually made of copper or aluminum and are placed on the front and back of the solar cells.
A photon is a particle representing a quantum of light or other electromagnetic radiation. It is the smallest discrete amount of electromagnetic radiation, the basic unit of all light, and a carrier of the electromagnetic force.
We will apply these terms in the following sections, reviewing the basics of how a residential solar system converts clean, renewable sunlight into electricity. We will also look at what’s to come for solar modules, and what it takes to install solar modules on your home.
Solar Modules and Renewable Energy Today
A solar module is typically about 65 by 40 inches, and they weigh about 40 pounds each (though the size and weight vary by manufacturer). These individual solar modules, or solar panels, usually contain 60 solar cells each and are connected together to form a solar array designed to function efficiently as a whole system.
The number of modules your system needs is based on a number of factors, including your average energy use, peak sunlight hours in your area, the power output and efficiency of your solar panels, the structural characteristics of your roof, your budget, and more. Visit How Many Solar Panels Do You Need? for a more in-depth explanation.
Solar modules work by absorbing the energy coming from the sun. As the photons of light hit the solar cells within the panels, they activate electrons within the cells, creating a current of electricity that then flows into the panel’s power inverter and is converted from direct current (DC) power to alternating current (AC) power. This electricity can then be run into your home to power your lights, heating and cooling systems, appliances, and electronic devices. Find a step-by-step breakdown of how a home solar system works in this article.
Today’s solar modules are generally capable of converting about 15-20% of the energy hitting them into electricity, but researchers are working to increase the effectiveness of solar energy.
Future Residential Solar Module Developments
There are exciting developments in solar energy focused on bringing greater efficiency and innovation to solar modules. A particular area of emphasis for researchers is improving functionality and performance as silicon semiconductors have an inherent maximum efficiency of about 32%. To increase this percentage, researchers are exploring new materials and solar cell designs.
Here’s a quick look at promising technology in development:
- One of the new materials being researched is perovskite. It is showing great promise in achieving higher efficiencies and is similar to silicon solar cell crystalline structures, but it is based on other elements like titanium or lead crystals.
- Research is also being conducted on layering solar cells, called multijunction, to capture different parts of the solar spectrum.
- Quantum dot solar cells are another area of promising research. Fabricated as tiny semiconductor particles just a few nanometers wide, these can be placed on a substrate material enabling the capture of a wider range of the light spectrum. These dot solar cells could also be added to other crystalline solar modules, amplifying their efficiency.
- Another area of promise is organic photovoltaics. These are lightweight solar cells made with carbon compounds which can be dissolved and solution-processed to create panels in a variety of colors and even transparency. This new technology presents some interesting potential applications, including use on windows or building facades.
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), funded by the U.S. government, has a specialized research team and facility dedicated to photovoltaic research. This team describes their work as: “Our cutting-edge research focuses on boosting solar cell conversion efficiencies; lowering the cost of solar cells, modules, and systems; and improving the reliability of PV components and systems.” Many solar researchers are working toward reaching the 50% efficiency milestone.
Though these developments are exciting, today’s residential solar technology offers many benefits to homeowners, and partnering with Blue Raven Solar makes the process of switching simple, straightforward, and hassle-free.
How Blue Raven Solar Installs Solar Modules
Blue Raven Solar experts first perform an initial assessment of your home. They will evaluate your current energy usage, the electrical panel and setup, the condition and type of roof, the pitch and position of your roof, and how shading might impact your production. After this initial evaluation and using advanced 3D technology, our in-house design team will create a solar system layout custom to your circumstances and energy needs optimized for the greatest efficiency.
We also address federal and state solar tax credit questions, review exclusive financing options, take care of local building and utility regulations (required building permits and scheduling inspections), and manage all of the work required for you to have a fully functioning clean energy solution. Once all of these details are in place, we move on to the installation phase of your project.
Our installation crews will begin by preparing your roof and setting up the necessary wiring. As this wiring usually runs into your house, homeowners need to be home for this part of the process. Then the racking is installed (this is typically when you’ll hear the most noise), and once it’s secured the solar panels are added. The final step for the installation crew is adding the inverters and then cleanup, with the entire installation process generally taking 1-2 days. After the installation has been inspected by the city and your current utility provider, you’ll be ready to flip the switch and energize your system.
To learn more about the Blue Raven Solar installation process, check out our step-by-step Solar Panel Installation Process.
Solar Modules on Your Home
Understanding solar modules, their components, future advancements, and how it all works when installed on your home is important when exploring the many benefits of going solar. For additional answers to your solar questions or to get a free no-obligation estimate, reach out to Blue Raven Solar today.