Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular, especially in Europe. This is hardly surprising – their prices are falling, while the cost of electricity and the efficiency of the cells continue to rise. Is 2024 a good time to install photovoltaic panels? Are they cost-effective?
How are photovoltaic panels built?
Although the design of solar panels is very complicated, for the purpose of this article we will try to simplify as much as possible.
The most important component of any solar panel is the photovoltaic cell, consisting of silicon semiconductors that are capable of absorbing photons. The energy expelled by the light goes to the electrons, which in effect leave their normal position. The released free electrons carry a charge, so an electric current is created.
The generated current goes via wires to an inverter, which turns it into alternating current (AC) of the appropriate voltage. The energy can go directly to electrical sockets or be stored.
What voltage do solar panels produce?
There are several types of photovoltaic panels available on the market. Among other things, they differ in the voltage they produce. For example:
- Low-voltage solar panels produce a voltage in the range of 12-24v;
- Mid-voltage solar panels produce voltages in the 24-60v range;
- High-voltage solar panels produce voltages above 60v.
The vast majority of panels generate a current of 40-60 volts, which is quite sufficient for home installations. Higher voltages are useful in large installations, because the energy losses on the wires are then smaller.
What is the efficiency of solar panels?
The percentage efficiency of photovoltaic panels may not be stunning – it is around 20%, while the best products on the market reach no more than 25%. Although from time to time there are reports of exceeding the 30% barrier, the choice of such efficient cells may not be justified because they are expensive.
Solar panels from Longi, which is one of the largest cell manufacturers in the world, have an efficiency of about 20.7%. It is worth remembering that the efficiency of photovoltaic panels decreases after time.
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How many years can solar panels operate?
Many companies offer warranties on their panels, which, as a rule, are around 20-25 years. It is estimated that current solar cells (subject to proper operation) should be able to last 25-30 years. However, many people will choose to replace them sooner, because after just 10 years, the performance of solar panels begins to decline noticeably.
How much do solar panels cost?
With photovoltaic panels it’s like with cars, flooring or any other product – there is no upper limit when it comes to prices. In most cases, installations are priced according to wattage ($/W), and the most expensive panels cost up to 4 times as much as the cheapest ones.
For polycrystalline solar panels, the typical price is $0.75 – $1 per watt, so an 8KW installation should cost around $6,000-8,000, with an estimated lifetime of up to 30 years.
Monocrystalline solar panels are a more expensive solution – their features are about $1 – $1.5 per watt, so an 8KW installation will be more expensive. You will come to pay between $8,000 and $12,000 for the whole set, and its estimated lifespan is up to 40 years! It is also worth remembering that monocrystalline panels are more efficient.
The last type is thin-film panels, whose prices range from $0.75 to $1.1 per watt, so a finished installation will cost about $6,000 – $8800. This is a relatively unprofitable solution, because due to their low efficiency, these panels need a large area, and they last about 15 years.
How quickly does the investment in solar panels pay off?
The profitability of investing in photovoltaic panels is strongly dependent on 3 factors – solar insolation in your region, the price of the panels and the cost of electricity. In the case of Europe, installation is very cost-effective, as most countries offer subsidies to encourage consumers to make such an investment. With current electricity prices and assistance from the government, your purchase should be profitable even in 4-5 years, and in countries with cheaper energy, after about 8 years.
In the United States, there is a tax reduction, which can also encourage consumers to buy. Due to lower energy costs, however, the return on investment comes a little later – often more than 10 years. However, there are states where solar panels are particularly worth thinking about. Good examples include Alabama, Missouri, Texas, Arizona and California, where it only takes about 6 years for the savings to exceed the expenses. On the other side of the scale are Colorado, District of Columbia, New Mexico and Montana, where you have to wait up to 11 years for your investment to be justified.
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Do solar panels break down often?
As a rule, no. Solar panels are designed for harsh weather conditions, so rain, snow and sun should not cause any damage to them. Much more serious risks are tornadoes and hailstorms, which can cause serious damage, often ending up with the need to completely replace specific panels.
Are solar panels eco-friendly?
There is no clear answer to such a question, but all indications are that solar panels are a good choice for those thinking about the state of the environment. Although their production involves greenhouse gas emissions, and the rare earth metals needed to make the cells require complex processing, over the course of 20-25 years, the panels will prevent hundreds of tons of CO2 emissions, which should offset the initial losses. To make your installation even more environmentally friendly, be sure to maintain it regularly as you extend its life.
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