What Does It Mean? – Solar Panel Terminology For Green Enthusiasts!

Researching a new technology that you plan on incorporating into your home can sometimes feel a bit like researching a new language that you plan on learning. You will constantly come up against terms that you’ve never seen before and your understanding of those terms is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to understanding the technology in general. The same mentality is true of solar panels. When researching various systems and their capabilities, you will continually come across a few key terms that you really need to understand before you can start making informed decisions with your hard earned money.

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One term that you will likely see on all solar panel documentation is the “maximum power temperature coefficient” of a particular unit. The maximum power temperature coefficient is typically measured in “percent per degree Celsius.” The term simply refers to the total percentage that the panel’s efficiency will decrease as it gets hotter and hotter throughout the day. A common misconception is that the hotter it gets outside, the more efficient solar panels will become. In reality, the reverse is true. The light from the sun’s rays is the true source of a solar panel’s power. The heat and associated rise in temperature, on the other hand, actually causes the efficiency of solar panels to decrease.

Another term that is very important to recognize is “module efficiency.” The module efficiency of a particular model will always be measured in a percent. The term describes what percentage if electricity is created based on the total amount of sunlight that is being absorbed by a particular panel. A higher percentage equates to a higher the module efficiency and the higher the value that a particular solar panel represents.

Solar Panels

Solar panels—ryochiji (Flickr.com)

There are also four main cell types used to create solar panels that you need to familiarize yourself with. Monocrystalline cells are the most expensive type of cells available and only represent slight efficiency improvements over alternatives. Amorphous silicon is a type of cell that is produced with a “thinner” material that has a lot of benefits over alternative types. Amorphous silicon is capable of better performance on hot days, even when the cell itself is covered by some type of shade. The amorphous silicon material is also capable of being produced very inexpensively, which in turn means that solar panels created with this type of material tend to be the cheapest. Multicrystalline and ribbon solar panels are very similar in concept to monocrystalline cells. They are cheaper than monocrystalline, though they are also slightly less efficient.

Solar panels - Cookers all in a row

Solar panels – Cookers all in a row—EBKauai (Flickr.com)

One final solar panel term that you will come across again and again is called the “rated power tolerance” of a particular unit. The rated power tolerance will always be measured in a percentage and refers to the range at which a panel will both underperform and over perform under normal circumstances. If a particular solar panel has a rated power tolerance of 10%, for example, the number in the panel’s documentation would be displayed as “+/- 10%.”

Sam Jones, the author, has been looking into free solar panels through government and private schemes and is interested in the many options available.

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