I recently visited with Positive Energy Solar in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was an incredibly informative visit and I’m glad to have the opportunity to share with you what I have learned.
There are a few different types of solar panels that have been invented over the years and they are made with the same three basic materials, silicon, copper, and aluminum. Solar panels, like the rest of technology, have a quick pace and the use of these three basic materials has greatly improved over the years.
The first kind of solar panel created was the polycrystalline silicon version. These cells are created by melting and cooling silicon and then slicing the cooled silicon into wafers. These solar panels are easily identified by the mottled look, shown above, that occurs when the silicon cools. These panels do not perform optimally under heated conditions and take up more space than the next generation of solar panels.
Next came the monocrystalline silicon which have a higher energy output than the polycrystalline silicon panels, so fewer panels are required to produce the same amount of energy. This helped to bring down the cost for the homeowner, but they tend to break easily (as you can see in the above photo) and don’t fully work if covered, even partially, with debris, dust, or snow. The monocrystalline panels also produce a lot of waste due to the particular manufacturing process involved. The monocrystalline style cells have long strips of connectors on the back that link each cell into the panel, however the connectors tend to break rendering that cell of the panel unusable.
Then, along came Sunpower thin-film solar panels. The individual solar cells have layers of silicon wafers bonded with copper and aluminum. These properties help to make the cells flexible, so they do not break as easily as previous generations of solar panels. They have tiny strips of wires running all along the entire backside of the surface and the strips are interconnected at two ends, so if one section of the cell breaks it is still usable. There are multiple connectors between one cell to another, as seen below, and are designed with gaps to allow for expansion and contraction of the metals while out in the elements. The excellent design of these panels mean that the amount of power produced does not degrade over the life of the panel which was common with the previous iterations of solar panels.
Top: Back of Monocrystalline Cell
Lower: Back of Thin-Film Solar Cell
(Photo by Jeni Sharp © 2015)
Now, I know what you are thinking “But solar panels are so expensive”. It is true that solar panels can be expensive, but currently there are U.S. federal (and possibly state or local) subsides (set to expire in 2016) that helped to offset the cost of the solar panels. Currently the U.S. Department of Energy provides a credit of 30% of the total cost of the solar panel. In New Mexico there is an additional 10% tax credit for a total of 40% off the initial price of the solar panels. Please keep in mind if you are interested in purchasing solar panels in the U.S. that the tax credit expires at the end of 2016 and may or may not be renewed.
A note to naysayers: Stanford University shows that solar panel technology now produces more energy than is required to produce the individual solar panel. While in the past an energy cost/benefit analysis would have shown that solar panels were not worth buying, because it cost more energy to produce them than they saved, that is no longer the case.
If you are a Burqueño, give Positive Energy a call and let them know you heard about them through Trekking Green.
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