The solar panel industry in the United States is on the rise. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, in the last decade alone, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 48%. If your business or nonprofit hasn’t yet made the transition to producing solar energy, it may be the time to start to consider including it as part of your energy system.
But, before you join the 78 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity installed in the United States, let’s discuss the most important solar question — how much energy does a solar panel actually produce?
How Does A Solar Panel Work?
First, let’s start with how a solar panel works. Solar panels work by allowing photons, particles of light, to knock electrons from their atomic orbitals. When this occurs, a flow of electricity is generated, and this electricity is then harnessed and preserved as electrical energy that can be then used to power your building. This all happens as light hits a unit called a photovoltaic cell. Solar panels are made up of hundreds or thousands of these cells, and multiple solar panels make up a solar array. These arrays are connected to the existing electrical grid so that the generated energy can be directed properly.
The process works through the following simplified steps:
- The silicon photovoltaic solar cell absorbs solar radiation
- When the sun’s rays interact with the silicon cell, electrons begin to move, creating a flow of electric current
- Wires capture and feed this direct current (DC) electricity to a solar inverter to be converted to alternating current (AC) electricity
What are the three main types of solar panels?
To get an accurate picture of how much energy a solar panel can produce, you have to first understand the differences between the main three types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film.
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels have cells made of silicon wafers. To build a monocrystalline or polycrystalline panel, wafers are assembled into rows and columns to form a rectangle, covered with a glass sheet, and framed together. On the other hand, thin-film panels are made from a variety of materials with the most prevalent type made from cadmium telluride (CdTe).
To better understand each one, check out this chart.
|Solar Panel Type||Advantages||Disadvantages|
|Monocrystalline||– High efficiency/performance|
|– Higher cost|
|Polycrystalline||– Low cost||– Lower efficiency/performance|
|Thin-film||– Portable and flexible|
|– Lower efficiency/performance|
What are the Basic Energy Units?
Here is a key to energy terms to help you understand how much energy a solar panel produces.
- kW – Kilowatt. This is a measure of electrical power, which is equal to 1000 watts. The electrical energy that is generated by a solar panel or a solar system can be expressed as watts or kilowatts.
- kWh – A measure of electrical energy that is equal to the consumption of 1000 watts for 1 hour. The kWh is used as a billing unit for the energy consumed by individuals. One kilowatt-hour equates to 3.6 megajoules.
- DC – Direct current power. This is the form of the power that gets initially generated from the panel.
- AC – Alternating current power. DC gets converted into AC so that it can be used efficiently by consumers throughout their house.
How Much Energy Does a Solar Panel Produce?
As of 2020, a typical solar panel produces around 320 watts of power, although one that produces exactly 320 watts is rare. Most panels are rated to individually produce anywhere from 285 to 360 watts.
For the sake of example, if you are getting 4 hours of direct sunlight per day in Midwest state like Missouri, you can calculate your solar panel output this way: 4 hours x 320 watts (average wattage of a solar panel) = 1,280 watts-hours, or 1.28 kilowatt-hours (kWh).
Using this example, how would much energy would a solar panel produce on a commercial scale? We are operating under the assumption that most businesses won’t just be installing one solar panel but rather a few solar arrays. A common size solar panel array is usually around 5kW and takes up around 400 square feet of space. An array of this size can produce an average of 350-850 kWh of AC energy per month. To put that into perspective, a typical household uses about 897 kWh per month. Therefore, depending on the size of your building, it is very possible with several arrays to generate enough energy to cover 100% of your needs.
For More Information
If your business or non-profit is interested in installing solar panels, contact us for a free quote. For more information on solar panels, check out some of our other blogs discussing solar. Here are a few we recommend.