One of the most important features of a solar panel is how much energy it can produce. Prospective solar panel owners usually have a goal for how much energy they want to produce. Maybe it is 100% of their household needs, or even just 50%, but in any case, there are a number of factors that will influence the energy production capabilities of a solar panel.
Solar technology has been around for decades as a means for generating energy from sunlight. Over the past few decades, solar panel technology has improved at a rapid pace, which led to more efficiency and lower costs. Currently, solar sourced energy is almost as cheap as energy sourced from fossil fuels, and in just a few years it will be even cheaper.
With the cost of solar dropping each year, it is much more realistic for home and business owners to install solar panels on their property. In this post we explore how solar panels function and produce energy.
First, let’s go over the basics.
How Does a Solar Panel Produce Energy?
Solar panels work by allowing particles of light, called photons, to knock electrons from their atomic orbitals. When this occurs, a flow of electricity is generated, and this electricity is harnessed and preserved as electrical energy. This all happens as light hits a unit called a photovoltaic cell.
Solar panels are made up of hundreds or thousands of these cells, and multiple solar panels make up a solar array. These arrays are connected into the existing electrical grid so that the generated energy can be directed properly.
How Much Energy Does One Solar Panel Output?
To get an accurate picture of how much energy a solar panel can produce, you have to first take into account what type of panel technology is being used. If you were to find a solar provider and look through the products that they offer, you would probably find 2 types of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Here are some features of each technology.
- Higher efficiency
- More expensive
- Better performance in high temperatures and shady conditions
- Lower efficiency
- Less expensive
- Less efficient at higher temperatures
As you can see, each type of panel has its pros and cons. Polycrystalline, however, is a newer technology and will become more efficient over time, but if you were looking to generate the most power in the smallest amount of space, monocrystalline would be the way to go. The panel technology is the first factor in the panel’s production abilities.
Key Solar Panel Terms: kW, kWh, DC, and AC
To fully understand the numbers, we need to go over some basic units.
- kW - Kilowatt. This is a measure of electrical power, which is equal to 1000 watts. The electrical energy that is generated by a solar panel or a solar system can be expressed as watts or kilowatts.
- kWh - A measure of electrical energy that is equal to the consumption of 1000 watts for 1 hour. The kWh is used as a billing unit for the energy consumed by individuals. One kilowatt hour equates to 3.6 megajoules.
- DC - Direct current power. This is the form of the power that gets initially generated from the panel.
- AC - Alternating current power. DC gets converted into AC so that it can be used efficiently by consumers throughout their house.
Solar panel systems are measured in terms of kW. A common size solar panel array is usually around 5kW and takes up around 400 square feet of space. An array of this size can produce an average of 350-850 kWh of AC energy per month. To put that into perspective, a typical household uses about 897 kWh per month. Therefore, it is very possible to generate enough energy to cover 100% of your needs. If you were only looking at 1 panel, that would translate into about 250 watts per panel, a size of 20 sq. ft., and about 17.5-42.5 kWh of AC per month.
Cover Your Electricity Needs with Solar
To sum it up, a solar panel, by itself, typically should be able to cover about 1/20th of your household energy needs. This is why most solar arrays include 10-20 panels, so that they can cover the majority of their needs. Obviously, this can vary widely depending on many variables, particularly how much electricity you use and how much roof space you have available. Other considerations include the type of panel technology, efficiency, location, angle, climate, and more.
At the end of the day, the main point to be made is that there has not been a better time in history to adopt solar. Not only can you easily generate enough energy to cover all of your energy needs, but solar panels are now cheaper and more efficient than ever.