When the word solar module is mentioned everyone always claims to know what it is. However, most people assume wrong and confuse it with something else. The majority believes that solar modules are solar cells. This is not entirely wrong, but still not really correct.


Well… what is a solar module then?

So what are solar modules? Solar modules are made out of solar cells. As in, a lot of individual solar cells connected together and then put into a frame, form a solar module. When the module is hit by sunlight it can generate electrical energy. The process itself is called photovoltaics.

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The big black squares which are seen on the roofs of houses are not called solar cells, these are actually solar modules or solar panels. Solar panels and solar modules are just two different names for the same thing.

solar modules

photo: public domain Seemann

The process to convert sunlight into energy is possible thanks to a particular material from which each individual solar cell must consist of.  The material is silicon which is a natural semiconductor. Silicon is obtained from simple quartz sand and then pressed into wafers to make solar cells, which then will form photovoltaic modules. The semiconductor silicon enables electrons inside it to become loose when hit by a sun ray. The loose electrons form the electricity that in turn can be used in all imaginary appliances possible in people’s homes


Not all solar modules are as effective as others – Solar panel color difference

The purer the silicon, the more effective the respective solar module will become. How pure the silicon and thus, how effective a particular solar module is can easily be distinguished even by a layman. You may have noticed that different types of solar panels in fact have color differences. The solar modules with the highest efficiency are used where the area for electricity generation is limited. Those modules are usually very dark blue or black in their color. Less effective panels are to be found in a lighter blue or even in brownish tones. These are used where there is plenty available of space. With a lot of space it doesn’t matter if you need to put up a couple extra modules to come up to your desired energy production level.

This color trick doesn’t always work though. To check for color difference to find out the effectiveness level works great for monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules. But a new type of panel that does not follow this rule has steadily been growing in popularity. I’m talking about the all black thin film solar module. These flexible panels are really dark but they are not as efficient as their mono and polycrystalline predecessors. Still their small price, sleek look and flexibility has won the hearts of many homeowners.  A thin film solar module is easy to spot though, since these panels don’t sport the omnipresent aluminum frame other PV modules always have. And another thing, if the solar module is curved you can be sure that this is a thin film one since the thin film modules are the only flexible ones on the market.


What kind equipment will I need to set up solar modules at home?

solar power equipment

photo: public domain windyllbalasa

To have a solar module make electricity is as simple as putting it up on you roof and wait for the sun to start shining. Because once it is up it can not be turned off, it will continue to produce electricity for a good 25 to 40 years. Without moving parts to brake, solar modules are amazingly long lasting.

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But to actually be able to use that generated electricity in an effective way requires a little more equipment then the modules themselves though. First you will be needing lots of wiring to connect them to your house. A fuse box for safety is also recommended. Generally you will need an inverter to convert the current coming from the photovoltaic solar panels to the kind of current normally used in a home. Since the sun won’t be shining at the same intensity all the time you need to have a way to stockpile the electricity. So you can use your TV even when it’s dark or cloudy outside. This is either done by batteries (off grid solution) or by selling the current to the national grid only to be buying it back at a later time (grid tied solution). In the case of the grid tied solution a special power meter that can measure current both in and out of the grid will be needed. And if one chooses an off grid battery solar system a solar charge controller needs to be monitoring the charging of the batteries to prevent them from becoming overcharged and thus break.


Get the most out of your solar system

Often people would like to get the most power possible from their solar modules, to do that a little bit of planning and finesse is required. For one thing you will need to tilt the modules in the right angle to collect the maximum amount of sunlight. And of course the direction does make a difference. There is no point in aiming the panels at a direction that won’t be getting any sun is it? Solar modules will not be effective if they are shaded either, so make sure to remove those pesky trees. Not having trees directly above your solar system will also help to protect them from those giant flocks of fruit bats and raving pigeons. This will be sparing you the need of running around your roof, cleaning bird poo all day long.


solar panel cost

photo: public domain Vinicius de Carvalho Venâncio

How much will it cost?

This is a hard question to answer because every solar system is different. One thing you can safely say though is that installing solar modules is cost effective almost no matter what you do. But exactly how cost effective depends on a lot of things, a large factor, of course being how much sun you get. But don’t despair, even if you live far away from the equator it will only mean that the time that it takes for your solar system to repay itself is longer. But it WILL repay itself and after that, the energy generated will be free.

If you desperately want to keep a low budget the solar modules on eBay costs as little as 1,5$ per watt. With prices like that one would get 2kW of panels to completely power a small home for only $3000. But this price does not include all the other extra equipment that will be needed. And keep in mind that by not buying from a local company you won’t get any help with the installation. And another thing is that the sellers on eBay often are located in Kina. If something goes wrong with your solar panels it can be hard to get refunds or replacements when dealing with a seller on the other side of the globe.

Portable panels

Solar modules come in portable packages as well, if you would like electricity on your camping trip a portable solar module is a great way to go. These foldable panels come with their own charring bag and a built in power controller protecting your batteries from overcharging.  So it’s just for you to hook them up to your desired battery appliances and start

Recyclable solar

The electricity photovoltaic panels generate is not only natural and exhaust free, the modules themselves are recyclable as well. Once the solar module has done its job generating electricity for 25 to 40 years, the various parts it consists of can be used to make brand new modules. This completes the cycle making solar modules the ultimate energy generating tool of the modern age.

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