With the rise of solar cells and the progress in solar cell technology, solar panels have become easily portable and widely available.
Instead of installing fields of large solar panels, people can purchase portable solar cells from their favorite outdoor brands. This might leave you wondering, does my solar cell’s small size require a higher light intensity?
Small solar panels do not need direct sunlight, since time is a more critical factor than the intensity of light. Due to its smaller size, it can’t collect as many photons as a larger panel. Keep your solar panel within range of sunlight for 5 to 6 hours instead of the recommended 3 to 4.
Solar panels are a great way to power your home or other electronics. This complex technology is environmentally friendly and becoming cheaper as the technology progresses.
The best way to understand why your small solar panel doesn’t require direct sunlight is to understand how the solar panel and light work together to generate electricity.
How Much Direct Sunlight Do Solar Panels Need? (PAA)
Knowing how much direct sunlight your solar panel needs is essential for optimal performance. You can always contact the manufacturer for precise information if you aren’t sure.
Solar panels need three to four hours of direct sunlight a day when the sun is highest in the sky or above the horizon. Since solar panels absorb the particles of light, called photons, they don’t require direct sunlight to create electricity.
Sunlight and Small Solar Panels
There are a few factors to consider when discussing the amount of sunlight needed for a small solar panel. Things like efficiency, power rating, and time will play a role in how effective your solar panel will be at generating electricity.
Small solar panels will benefit from more time under sunlight. Since the surface area is much smaller than a solar panel used for industrial purposes, the smaller the panel, the more time it will need to collect light and convert it into the same amount of electricity as a standard size panel.
Furthermore, the efficiency and power rating will affect the overall electricity produced. The power rating is how much power the panel can produce in a given amount of time.
If your solar panel is inefficient or has a low power rating, you will benefit from exposing it to sunlight for longer periods.
Can Solar Panels Work in Cloudy Weather?
Solar panels can convert energy into electricity in direct and indirect weather, which includes cloudy weather. This is due to the fact that the solar panel is still absorbing the individual particles of light, known as photons, despite only being in partial sunlight.
While it is true that the potential for energy production will be reduced due to the lower levels of available sunlight, your solar panels will still collect photons for electricity conversion.
Most solar panels come with a battery where excess energy can be stored. In times of low or partial light, this battery will kick in and compensate for the lower energy production levels.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
An emerging backbone of green energy, solar panels can seem like complex technology but can be understood through the lens of simple chemistry and materials engineering.
Simple, right? Let’s break it down:
Solar panels contain smaller units on their surface called “solar cells.” These cells can be made out of a variety of materials, but the most common is silicon. This semiconductor material is layered with other conductive materials within the solar cell. There are two layers of silicon:
- N-Type: This type of silicon contains more electrons. High conduction elements, such as phosphorus, are introduced to the silicon to allow for an extra electron that can freely “roam” on this silicon layer. Due to the extra electrons, it has a negative charge.
- P-Type: Instead of doping the silicon to lead to a negative charge, this layer of silicon is positively charged. In this case, an element with only three electrons in its outer shell is introduced to the silicon. This leaves a “hole” that an extra electron from the N-Type silicon can fill.
The silicon atoms are connected within the solar cells by four chemical bonds. These bonds are essential to the function of the solar panel as a whole as they prevent the electrons from creating a current.
Instead, they bounce between the two layers of silicon in the solar cell.
When the panel absorbs a photon, it knocks an electron loose. Due to the opposite charges of the N-Type and P-Type silicon, the electron is automatically drawn to the N-Type side.
The free roaming electrons on the N-Type side are then collected by a mechanism at the top of the solar cell.
They flow through a circuit and power electronics or are collected in a battery and are then fed through an aluminum sheet on the back of the solar panel, thus reentering the panel to generate more electricity.
Materials in a Solar Panel
Despite their simplistic design, solar panels contain complex components that allow them to convert light into electricity to power our homes and cities. These materials include:
- Silicon: One of the most important components in a solar panel as it allows for the transition of electrons into the circuit to create electricity.
- Metal Frame: This is the frame that the solar panel rests on. It keeps it off the ground and away from critters, flood water, or growing weeds.
- Glass: There is a protective layer of glass on top of the silicon layers of the solar panel.
- Circuit wiring: A circuit is needed to collect the free-roaming electrons and create electricity.
- Aluminum sheet: After going through the circuit, the electrons are fed through an aluminum sheet on the back of the solar panel to generate more electricity.
No matter their size, solar panels are an excellent investment for your home and the world. The Sun creates enough energy daily to power our communities, so why shouldn’t we take advantage of this natural resource?
While it is true that small solar panels work best in full and direct sunlight, they can still create energy in partial light. The most important factor is ensuring they are exposed to sunlight for a long time.
- YouTube: How Do Solar Panels Work? – Richard Komp
- Stanford Advanced Materials: What are P-Type and N-Type Semiconductors?
- Green Solar Technologies: The 5 Key Components of a Solar Panel System
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