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AM Solar - Solar PanelsSolar Panels

The operating environment on the roofs of RV's is unique and requires a


different approach than would be taken in other situations or
applications. Since we are mainly concerned with what is appropriate for
use on RVs, this discussion will not cover other uses.
There are presently three commercially available types of solar cells
based on silicon: Amorphous (thin film), Poly-Crystalline (multi-crystal),
and Mono-Crystalline (single crystal). Each manufacturer has a slightly
different approach to producing each of these basic technologies and,
therefore, different efficiencies and target markets. Just know that all
solar panels are NOT created equal! And most importantly, not all are
appropriate for use on the roofs of RV's!
First, let's briefly cover how they are made and how they work so that you
will have a better understanding of what I am going to present to you
later about voltage ratings and what affects output.
How they are made.
For the poly and mono-crystalline panels, the base material used is
silicon. This is derived from quartz (SiO2), a constituent of sand.
However, the high grade quartz used for solar cell production is mined as
there are too many impurities in common sand. This quartz is refined to
produce nearly pure silicon.
The silicon is then blended with a small amount of boron, melted down and
used to grow crystalline ingots. The ingots are then sliced into very thin
wafers and impregnated on one side with phosphorous. This gives them an
electrical charge, one side has a positive (+) charge and the other side
has a negative (-) charge.
Depending on the manufacturer, these wafers are then either screen printed
with a grid of silver paste or they are scribed with a laser and a copper
grid is buried in the wafer. These wafers with grids are then called
"Cells". A group of these cells (sandwiched between glass on top and a
weather proof back layer) is then called a laminate. When the laminate is
framed it is called a module (or panel).
The amorphous panels are made by depositing a silicon rich gas (silene) on
a substrate which is then etched and scribed into cells and modules. This
is about as brief as I can get and still give you an idea of how they are
made. In actuality, the process is a lot more exacting and complex.
How they work.
The cells have a positive and a negative side. In the middle of the cell
where these two sides meet (the P-N junction) is an area where electrons
are loosely held. When sunlight strikes the surface of the cells, these
loosely held electrons get excited and start moving around following the
path of least resistance (the silver or copper grid). These moving
electrons are pure D.C. electricity whose voltage and amperage is
controlled by the number and size of cells that are connected in series
[(pos.(+) to neg.(-), (pos.(+) to neg.(-),etc.].
Regardless of the size of the cell, it has a potential voltage of about
0.5 volts (0.475 to 0.525 volts depending on the manufacturer). So roughly
one volt is produced by having two cells in series (2 x 0.5 = 1). In order
to develop enough voltage to charge a battery, you need 36 cells in
series. According to our model based on 0.5 volts output per cell, a 36
cell panel would produce about 18 volts (36 x 0.5 = 18).
In actuality, you'll find 36 cell panels on the market that produce any
where from 16.5 volts to 18.5 volts depending on the type of cell and who
makes it. This may seem to be overkill on voltage considering that you are
only trying to charge a 12 volt battery! However, there are other factors
that cause a voltage drop in these panels, but more on that later.
The size of the cell has everything to do with how many charging amps are
produced (even if the voltage isn't affected by cell size). The bigger the
cell, the more sunlight it can receive, and therefore, the more amperage
it will produce. It really is that simple.
Our AM100 is custom made for us, has 44 cells, and operates at 21.5 volts!
This extra voltage really produces a big boost to the charging amperage
when used in combination with our new HPV-22B and HPV-30DR maximum power
point tracking charge controllers. Check out our new SunRunner 100-22 and
SunRunner 100-30 systems which incorporates these new products.
How they are rated.
Panels are rated in Watts of output. This wattage rating is derived by
multiplying the panels peak power voltage times its peak power amperage
(Watts = Volts x Amps). These ratings are based on standard test
conditions (STC) of 1000 watts/square meter of light input, a cell
temperature (not air temperature!) of 25 Degrees C (77 Degrees F), and an
air mass of 1.5 (slightly above sea level).These standard test conditions
are rarely found in "real world" operating conditions. For example:
1000 watts/square meter of sunlight would only be reached around solar
noon, with the panel squarely facing the sun, just after a rain shower
has washed all the dust out of the air. "Real world" input is usually
around 800 to 850 watts/square meter on a bright day (when you factor in
dust and air pollution and consider that the panels are laid flat on the
roof and are therefore not square to the sun).

When you consider that solar cells are dark blue to almost black, they
soak up sunshine and get quite hot so they are operating at temperatures
considerably higher than 25' C (77' F). This increased cell temperature
translates into a voltage drop and therefore less output.

The air mass changes as you move from sea level to mountaintop. The
atmosphere is thicker at sea level so more sunlight is interrupted by
dust and pollution and less gets transformed into solar electricity.
Conversely, the same panel operating from a mountaintop will see more
intense sunlight and will produce more power.
This is not to imply that panel manufacturers are purposely trying to
deceive you. It is because "real world" operating conditions are so
variable that they had to come up with some standard test conditions so
that all panel ratings are derived after being subjected to the same
conditions as every other panel. Therefore, you have a basis for
comparison between manufacturers. Just realize that on average you will
probably only see about 80% of the rated output of solar panels in "real
world" operating conditions.
How reliable are they?
There is very little that can go wrong with a solar panel short of
physical damage. In fact, all panels pass Jet Propulsion Labs Block V
tests, which are: withstanding 125 m.p.h. wind loading, surviving one inch
hail at terminal velocity (52 m.p.h.), and thermal cycling at temperatures
beyond what you will find here on Earth (short of tossing them into molten
lava !!).
There are no moving parts to wear out and they don't consume any fuel. As
long as there is enough light to cast a shadow on the ground, they will
produce electricity. They are so reliable that Crystalline panels come
with 20 to 25 year warranties and the Amorphous panels now come with 10 to
20 year warranties.
The Crystalline panels have been around long enough to have earned their
20 to 25 year warranties. They are fully expected to last longer than 35
years. The Amorphous panels are relative new comers and the earlier
versions had some troubles with power degradation over time and
delamination. The newer versions claim to have overcome the worst problems
and have 20 year warranties. However, they have not actually been around
long enough to prove that they will survive those 20 years.
Amorphous panels may prove to be the panels of the future eventually, but
right now they haven't "earned their wings" so to speak. Considering that
they cost essentially the same per watt as crystalline panels and may be
dead in 10 years, I firmly believe the best investment for my money would
be the crystalline panels.
How efficient are they?
Since roof space on an RV is at a premium, efficiency is worth
considering. Efficiency in this situation is defined as: How much of the
available energy in sunlight is transformed into usable D.C. electricity?
In other words: How many of those 1000 watts/square meter coming from the
sun will be available to you?
Amorphous panels are about 6 to 8% efficient. So you would expect to
have about 60 to 80 watts/square meter. Amorphous panels are the least
expensive per watt but require twice the roof area to equal the power of
the crystalline panels.

Screen Printed Poly-Crystalline panels are about 12 to 15% efficient. So


you would expect to have about 120 to 150 watts/square meter. Screen
printed crystalline panels are slightly more expensive than amorphous
panels, but require about half the roof space for a given amount of
power.

Screen Printed Mono-Crystalline panels are about 12 to16% efficient.


Even though mono-crystalline cells are more efficient than
poly-crystalline cells, they are more round and don't pack as tight as
the square, poly-crystalline cells do in a panel. So expect to have
about 120 to 160 watts/square meter. Screen printed mono-crystalline
panels are priced like their poly-crystalline cousins and need
essentially the same amount of space.
As far as their efficiencies at the extremes of the operating environment
(low light or high cell temperatures), they each perform a little
differently.
In high cell temperature conditions ALL panels experience a voltage drop.
Crystalline panels will perform well as long as they have at least 36
cells and an operating voltage of about 17 volts. Check out our 44 cell
AM100 Solar Panel that operates at a whopping 21.5 volts. With high
voltage like that, you never have to worry about voltage drop due to high
temperatures.
What affects output?
There are several factors that affect the output of solar panels. The most
important ones are listed below:
Light Intensity. The brighter the sunlight the more power the panels
will produce. This is effectively a straight line correlation. So, if
there is 1000 watts/square meter of sunlight ,you will see the full
rated output of the panel. If there is 500 watts/square meter, you will
see half the rated power of the panel.

Shading. The shade caused by tree branches, TV antennas, or even dust


will dramatically affect the output of solar panels. So, place the
panels where they won't be in the shade and keep them clean!
Cell Temperature. The cells of solar panels are dark in color and
operate at much higher temperatures than what the air temperature is.
The hotter these cells are, the more of a voltage drop is experienced.
This is why it is important to use panels that have operating voltages
of at least 17 volts. It takes 14.1 to 14.4 volts to fully charge a
battery and a 17 volt panel may drop about two volts when they get hot.
This means that they only have about 15 volts to charge with. So, pay
attention to the operating voltage of solar panels when you are
considering buying them!

Angle of Sunlight. If the panels are not squarely pointed at the sun,
you will lose some of that sunlight to reflection off of the surface of
the panel. For the most part, the panels are mounted flat on the roof,
so, you can expect to lose some power to reflected light. This is most
pronounced in the winter when the sun is at a lower path across the sky.
There are tilt mount options that will allow you to tip the panels into
the sun and, therefore, recapture those rays. Just remember to lay them
back down before you take off down the highway!

Improper Wiring. Poorly made electrical connections create resistance


and result in less power going to your batteries. Make 'em tight and
keep 'em clean! Also make sure to use the proper gauge wire to carry the
amount of power you are producing. Using too small of wire will result
in voltage drop (remember the discussion on voltage drop above?)
Our SunRunner Systems have taken into consideration everything discussed
above and use specially selected solar panels to meet the needs of the
RVer!

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