Your Questions About Solar Panels

Paul asks…

Is it possible to make solar panels for generating electricity out of everyday materials?

I have made a wind generator out of cheap, everyday materials.
Is it possible to make solar panels for generating electricity from everyday materials, perhaps something like a thermocouple with two different metals?

ssadmin answers:

Not unless you can figure out a way to produce a semi-conductor at home. Basically a solar cell (photovoltaic cell) is a couple of layers of silicon P type and N type. Electrons become excited when light quanta penetrates into the P layer. The excited electrons move to the N type and (very oversimplified) create electricity.

I doubt you would have the facilities to create the materials at home.

William asks…

What is the most cost-effective place to buy large solar electric panels?

We don't have enough money right now to buy capacity for the whole house, which would probably require about 12 kilowatts. However, I would like to start buying panels toward building up toward that.

But I want to buy the most solar panel for the least price. I think that piecing a lot of very small panels together will be a very expensive way to do it.

Does anyone know the least expensive way to buy large solar electric panels?

ssadmin answers:

Great answers here. Just to summarize, in order of priority:

1) Reduce usage first. For every $1 you spend on conservation, that's about $4 less you need to spend on your solar system. It costs less to use less electricity than to make your own.

2) Research solar hot water. Solar hot water is ~ 85% efficient, as opposed to ~20% for solar electric. You get a better bang for your buck installing solar thermal than solar electric.

3) Install solar electric. Prices for solar panels have dropped dramatically this year as the demand in Europe has dropped and people are having trouble getting home equity loans in the US. You can get better pricing if you buy by the pallet (depending on the panel, 20 – 30 panels). You are right that you don't need to generate all that you use, and if you do steps 1 and 2, you'll be using less anyways.

Mandy asks…

How much energy could be generated by adding solar panels to the Alaskan Pipeline?

Using low-end, i.e. cheap, solar panels, based on existing technology, how much energy can be generated by adding solar panels to the total length of the Alaskan Pipeline? And if possible, how does that compare with the energy of the oil being pumped through the pipe. Not sure what the light cycle is along the pipe.

ssadmin answers:

Probably very little, it's at such a high latitude. Anchorage gets way less than half the annual sunlight that LA does, for example:

The trans-Alaska pipeline is about 800 miles long. Let's assume you could fit 1.5 metres wide of panels all along the pipeline, and the efficiency of these panels is 10% (First Solar CdTe are the cheapest, and 8-10% efficient modules. Silicon is more expensive but generally higher efficiency).

The surface area is 1.9 million square metres, which will receive an average of 4 million kWh/day at Anchorage levels of sunlight, or make 0.4 million kWh/day of electricity (ofc, lots more in summer than in winter!)

0.4 million kWh is the energy content of about 2,300 barrels of oil.

However, you must remember that here you've accounted for the efficiency of the solar panels but not the efficiency of the oil. If you burn the oil in a car engine, you'll average 12-20% efficiency in general (and that's not accounting for the energy needed to dig up, process & distribute the oil or make the solar panels). Assuming you're using the oil to drive, it's equivalent to about 10,000 barrels of oil per day, or 3.65m a year.

Chris asks…

How do Solar Panels work, and how it can generate electricity?

Can u guys help on how solar panels work and how it generates electricity?

(or u can give me a good website that has solar panel info on it)

~Thanks in advance!~

ssadmin answers:

Solar panels are made up of a number of solar cells. A solar cell will generate from 0.5 to 0.55 volts DC and a current depending on the size and type of cell. The current can be milli-amps or amps. We have a list of solar cell manufactures on our blog under products that are sorted by watts per area. Also go to wikipedia to get more detailed information on solar cells.

Mary asks…

How many solar panels would you need to equal the energy output of 1kg of U-235?

How many solar panels would you need to equal the energy output of 1kg of U-235?

if 1kg of U-235 can produce 80 trillion joules (8×10^13 J) of energy how many solar panels would you need to equal this amount of energy?

Any info would be very much appreciated!

ssadmin answers:

Unless the student is supposed to be able to calculate how long it takes the U-235 to produce that amount of energy, there is not enough information. If that is within the scope of the course, the question is way out of my league.

But assuming you just left out the time when stating the problem, divide that into 80 trillion to get joules/sec.

Let's say the time is 40 billion seconds* for the U-235 to generate 80 trillion J. Divide 80 trillion by 40 billion, that's 2,000 J/sec. You would need 10 panels. (A typical panel produces 200 Joules/sec.)

*That's a LOT of seconds, even a lot of centuries. By then the solar panels would have worn out and crumbled into dust, so it's a silly question in that sense. Is the teacher trying to make a point about the futility of solar power?

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