Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roofs of homes and businesses capture the sun's energy to generate electricity cleanly and quietly. Light energy is converted directly into electricity by transferring sunlight photon energy into electrical energy. This conversion takes place within cells of specially fabricated semiconductor crystals.
Solar doesn't generate electricity all the time, but it does generate electricity when it is needed most – during the day and on hot sunny days when electricity demand (driven by air-conditioners) is at its peak.
Importantly, electricity is generated at the point of demand – where people live and work – which means there is no need to transfer the energy long distances across expensive infrastructure.
How Solar PV works
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are generally fitted on the roof in a northerly direction and at an angle to maximise the amount of sunlight that hits the panels.
Solar PV panels on the roofs of homes and businesses generate clean electricity by converting the energy in sunlight. This conversion takes place within modules of specially fabricated materials that make up the solar panels. It is a relatively simple process that requires no moving parts. In most cases, solar panels are connected to the mains power supply through a device called an Inverter.
Solar panels are different to solar hot water systems, which are also mounted on household roof-tops but use the heat from the sun to provide hot water for household uses.
The technology to convert sunlight into electricity was developed in the 19th century, but it was only in the second half of the 20th century that development accelerated behind the need to provide reliable supplies of electricity in remote locations – from satellites in space to outback Australia.
Solar panels have been installed on the rooftops of houses and other buildings in Australia since the 1970s. Currently there are more than one million residential solar panel systems safely and reliably delivering clean electricity across Australia.
Grid-connected solar PV systems
Most suburban homes in Australia are connected to the electricity grid, which uses alternating current electricity (AC). But the electricity generated by solar panels is direct current (DC). That means grid-connected (GC) solar PV systems need an Inverter to transform the DC electricity into AC electricity suitable for ordinary household needs. Houses with solar systems use solar power first before sourcing electricity from the grid. When the panels are not producing electricity at night, electricity is supplied from the existing electricity grid.
Average daily production
The output of a solar PV system depends on its total system efficiency, size, shading and location. The Midwest has an average output yearly of 5.8 sun hours production. in winter it’s down to under 4 sun hours and in summer up to 7.8 sun hours. From these figures you can estimate the production of different systems, to give you an idea of the power available from the sun.
Example: 3.0-kilowatt system North facing in December can produce 7.8 sun hrs times 3kW = 23 kilowatt hours or units of power. Considering you pay up to 25c per unit of power, this size system could save you up to $6.00 a day in summer or up to $350 of you power bill. This amount depends on your usage of power, so if you had a $700 power bill, you could halve your bill in the summer months.
Systems installed in the Midwest should generally be mounted on a North to West roof, to take advantage of our abundance of solar radiation during our summer months when cooling loads are working at premium capacity. (air-conditioning, fridges etc)
A typical Australian house consumes around 18 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day so a 3.0 kW system displaces an average of 25 to 50 per cent of your average electricity bill. Your power savings are increased by following directions in the manual provided, to ensure best return on investment.
The wattage of the panel indicates what its maximum output is over an hour (the electricity your solar PV system generates is measured in kilowatt hours). So, if you have four x 250 W panels which is equal to 1 kW of panels, then the maximum output these panels could generate would be 1 kW/hour.
However, these will never run at 100 per cent efficiency. Losses will occur through cabling and at the Inverter efficiency and will be affected by factors such as location, climate and latitude, time of year, angle of the panels. A well-designed system aims to minimise these losses to give you the maximum output for your system.
Angle of the solar panels
Solar PV panels produce most power when they are pointed directly at the sun. In Australia, solar modules should face north for optimum electricity production. The orientation of the panels will often have a greater effect on annual energy production than the angle they are tilted at. A minimum tilt of 10° is recommended to ensure self-cleaning by rainfall.
For grid-connected solar PV power systems, the solar panels should be positioned at the angle of latitude to maximise the amount of energy produced annually. Most West Australian homes have a roof pitch of 12° to 30°.
If your roof's slope is not ideal, we can supply an appropriate mounting frame to correct the orientation and elevation of your panel. Failing this, then we can advise you on the difference in energy output for different tilt and orientation.
Sunlight the panels should receive
The amount of energy in sunlight that a solar PV panel receives over a day is expressed in peak sun hours. As the amount of energy generated by a panel is directly proportional to the amount of energy it receives from sunlight, it is important to install panels, so they receive maximum sunlight.
Shading and dirt
Solar PV panels should ideally be in full sun from at least 9am to 3pm. They should not be placed in shaded areas and should be kept free from dust and dirt.
Even a small amount of shade – from things like trees, roof ventilators or antennas – will have a large impact on the output of a panel, as it changes the flow of electricity through the panel.
Shading or dirt on just one of the cells in a solar panel results in a loss of power from many cells, not just the one that is shaded.