Solar Panel Technology
Today’s solar panels can be traced to an accidental discovery at a Bell Telephone Lab over half a century ago when they realized exactly how solar panels work. A researcher noticed a photovoltaic reaction in a bar of silicon. The New York Times in 1954 called it, “the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams— the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”
Solar technology has advanced tremendously since then. But if you look “under the hood” of most solar cells, you’ll find they find they contain the same basic elements that was in the Bell Lab discovery: silicon.
Silicon is not only in solar technology. It is one of the most important elements of the computer age. Who hasn’t heard of Silicon Valley? Silicon is a semiconductor material used in most microelectronic technology. We use silicon as a semi-conductor because it is very abundant on the planet. Silica (a form of silicon) is a main component of sand.
One of the very cool things about silicon is that it grows into nice, even crystals in a lab. Manufacturers then process the crystals into computer chips. In fact, you may have heard the term “crystalline silicon” to describe the technology within today’s most commonly used solar panels. All three types of solar panels have the capability of lowing your energy bill with added features such as solar water heating, solar home heating, and cooling, and even by heating your pool with solar energy.
Tracked Mounting vs Fixed Mounting for Solar Panels
You will need to think not only about the type of solar panel that best suits you, but also how you want it mounted. Most likely, you will want to go with a flat mount—most homeowners do because they have pitched roofs. But if you have a flat roof or if your panels will be installed in your yard rather than your roof, you may choose to mount them on trackers.
What’s the advantage of trackers? They move your solar panels so that they can follow the sun, usually via a motorized mechanism. This makes the panels significantly more efficient—as much as 25% to 35%—especially if a roof is shaded during part of the day.
But again, with increased efficiency comes increased cost. Trackers can add several thousands of dollars to the cost of a residential solar panel installation.