Solar Panels Guide

Solar Panels: Everything You Need To Know

Introduction

The best-known part of a solar power system is the Solar Panels.

Solar energy is probably the most popular renewable energy in the world today.

The solar power industry is ever-growing, and as always,  new technology is being produced all the time .

This guide will help you understand  how solar panels work,   how they function as part of a solar power system and which panels would best suit your needs .

CHAPTER 1

Fundamentals

Fundamentals
This section will include  phrases or words that you may not know  if you are a beginner in the market like:

  • Photovoltaic
  • Array
  • String
  • Parallel
  • MPPT

Are You A Beginner?

As always, we’ll start off with the fundamentals.

If you’re not new to our guides and know the jargon used in the solar industry, you may want to scroll past this section.


Photovoltaic
The word ‘photovoltaic’ is made up of two words. The Greek word ‘phōs’ means ‘light’ and ‘volt’, the electromotive force unit.
The definition of photovoltaic means to produce energy from the sun.

Array
Photovoltaic Array refers to your solar panel setup.

String
A group of solar panels whose combined voltage does not exceed the maximum MPPT range.

Parallel
This way of connecting solar panels increases the amps.

MPPT
An MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) tracks the voltage coming from the PV array and maximises the energy produced by the array.
Remember:
If you have any questions that have not been covered in this article, you can always contact us.

CHAPTER 2

How Do Solar Panels Work?

How do they work?
To understand how solar panels work, you need to look at the molecular structure of the N-Type & P-Type layers.

I don’t want to bore you with the details so, I’ll give you a  basic rundown  on how they work below.

Moving Electrons

Photons from sunlight cause free electrons to move through a circuit by forcing the electrons from their bonds in the N-Type layer to fill voids in the P-Type layer, generating electricity.

To learn more about the inner workings of solar panels, watch this video:
If you’d like to read in-depth about solar panels, you can do so here.

What are Solar Panels Made from?

Solar panels are made of different components.

But, the heart of the solar panel is the solar cell. Solar cells are made from an abundant resource; silicon.

An intricate manufacturing process produces either Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline solar cells.

Monocrystalline cells are made up of solid, uniformed silicon slices, whereas polycrystalline cells are made of small silicon pieces fused together.

Panel schematic

CHAPTER 3

Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline

Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline
When comparing the two cell types, we’ll be looking at  efficiency, price, manufacturing and application .

That’s why it’s good to learn about the  different cells available .

Each has its place in the solar market, but  the application will dictate which product is best for you .

Monocrystalline

The Monocrystalline panel is cut from a single crystal structure. Out of the different varieties, they are the oldest technology. The solar cells have a uniform flat colour.

Note: They are more expensive per watt but are more efficient; this means you can install fewer high-efficiency panels.
Monocrystalline
Best used:
Residential and Commercial projects
If there is limited space available

Pros

  • Most efficient
  • More heat resistant
  • Durable

Cons

  • Most expensive per watt

Polycrystalline

The polycrystalline panel is a newer technology. Due to the cells being made up of fused together pieces of silicon, they have a less uniform appearance.

They tend to be the most affordable with the lowest price per watt; although they put out a little less power, they are becoming more efficient.

Note: Their production is better for the environment as they require fewer resources to make, making them the “greener” option.
Polycrystalline
Best used:
For Grid-Tied systems
Best Solar Panel price
Looking for the “greenest” option

Pros

  • Most affordable
  • Long-lasting
  • Require less silicon
  • Durable

Cons

  • Least efficient

CHAPTER 4

Solar Panel Sizing

Solar Panel Sizing
Your  personal needs  will determine  what size solar panel will suit you .

If you have  little space for panels, you will need a higher power rating panel , like a 400W panel.
If you have  a lot of space, then you can look at having more lower power rating panels .

How to size an array

Want to know how to size an array?

We have a array sizing guide that will further explain how to size an array based on your needs and your inverters parameters.

Click Here

CHAPTER 5

Which Brands Are Best?

Solar Panel Brands
We stock brands such as:

  • Jinko
  • Canadian Solar

Both are great brands.

You can use any panel with any system, as long as you stick to the parameters set up by your inverter manufacturers.

Canadian Solar
Canadian Solar boasts a reputation for being among the world’s three largest solar panel brands in terms of size.

Their employee base has grown to more than 9700 staff members, and the brand operates on no less than six continents.

Top features:

  • High-quality panels
  • Production lines in South Africa
  • Affordable Solar Panel price
  • Global leaders in Solar Energy
  • Great support
  • Offer guarantees
  • Long-lasting Panels
Canadian Solar 360W Poly KuMax Half-Cell 35mm Frame 5 BusBar
R 1,999.00
View Product
Canadian Solar 365W Poly KuMax Half-Cell 35mm Frame 5 BusBar with T4
R 2,045.00
View Product
CanadianSolar 415W Super High Power Poly PERC HiKU with T4
R 2,420.00
View Product
JA Solar
Based in Shanghai, and it’s been operational since 2005. Over the years, the company has gained a strong reputation for producing some of the most high-performance cells and modules, and its international client base is growing at a rapid pace.

Top features:

  • High-performance panels
  • Innovative
  • Affordable Panels
  • Global leaders in Solar Energy
  • Trusted brand
  • Offer guarantees
  • Long-lasting Panels
JA Solar 345W Mono MBB Percium Half-Cell Black Frame MC4
R 1,960.00
View Product
JA Solar 380W Mono MBB Percium Half-Cell Black Frame MC4
R 2,180.00
View Product
JA Solar 385W Mono MBB Percium Half-Cell Black Frame Dark Cell MC4
R 2,230.00
View Product

CHAPTER 6

Is Your Roof Suitable?

Is your roof suitable
One of the important factors when investing in solar panels is  how they will work with your roof .

This can be straight forward, or it can be a bit more complicated depending on your  roof’s size, shape, angle, and stability .

In this section, you’ll learn more about roof types and if yours is solar-ready.

How Complex Is The Roof?

The shape and design of a complex roof will leave you at a slight disadvantage.

Though it is possible to install solar panels on complex roofs, it is going to cost more.

For example, take this beautiful house with a complex roof and compare it to the more standard design roof.

Complex Roof
Standard Roof
The solar panels need to be facing the same direction, installed perfectly to harvest as much of the sun’s rays as possible.

A solar panel installation on a roof like the complex roof will require elaborate mounting kits, which will take longer to install, costing you more for labour and materials.

Roof Direction

Roof direction is crucially important.

To have a productive array, your solar panels will need to face the sun all day.

Solar Panel Roof

You will need your roof to be north-facing in the Southern Hemisphere, whereas Northern Hemisphere arrays will need to be south-facing.

Because we are in the Southern Hemisphere, we’ll focus on north-facing examples.

If your roof is not north facing, you will still benefit from a solar system installation.

You will need to install two arrays, one on the west-facing side and one on the east-facing side.

In the morning, you’ll harvest solar power from the east-facing array, and in the afternoon, you’ll harvest solar energy from the west-facing array.

However, you will be better off using an inverter with a high voltage range with either 2 MPPTs or buying a combiner box to have more strings of panels.

What Material Is Your Roof Made Of?

The material and pitch of your roof will also affect the cost of the installation of Solar Panels.

In South Africa, most houses have tiled, pitched roofs. However, there are few other options, like metal or thatched roofs.

Tiled and corrugated roofs are perfect for installing solar panels, but thatched roofs will not support solar panels as there are currently no mounting kits available for them.

We have many flat roofs here in South Africa, too, which can support solar panels. However, you will need specialist structures to install your panels on to be angled perfectly.

If you are unsure, it’s always best to have a professional solar installer, check your roof so that they can give you the best advice.

Roof tile

Tiled Roof

Shingle Roof

Shingle Tiles

IBR Roof

IBR Roof

Flat Concrete Roff

Flat Concrete Roof

Corrugated Roof

Corrugated Roof

Thatch Roof

Thatch Roof

The Amount Of Shade Covering The Roof

Solar panels produce power by using the sun’s rays, so shading will not be helpful at all.

You will need to ensure that your roof has little to no shading from chimneys, trees and other buildings.

Trees can be trimmed back, and optimisers can be used to help in minor shading situations.

If there’s a way you can get around the shading problem, your solar installer will be able to help you come up with a solution.

Shaded Roof

Age And Support

It might not be easy to hear, but your roof has a time limit, and with this time limit comes a level of support it can provide to the solar array.

Once again, you want to contact an expert in this area and take an in-depth look at your roof’s condition.

There is a multitude of variables that go into installing panels.

The good news is that there’s usually a way around most common problems.

CHAPTER 7

Let’s Talk Cost:

Let's talk cost
The truth is that  panel production is at an all-time high , while  panel prices are at an all-time low , and according to the experts, the price drop trend won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Solar Panel technology is advancing more and more, which means  more efficient panels .

Solar Panel Pricing

You may have thoughts of waiting a little longer so that the price drops a little more and see what the latest models have to offer.

This cycle is never going to stop. Just like new cars and cellphones, solar panels will continue to evolve in affordability and design.
Solar panel prices in South Africa are determined by the brand, size, and type.

Monocrystalline panels are more expensive than polycrystalline, but they are more efficient.

You can buy a 160W solar panel for R970 at SolarAdvice.

And, if you want the biggest, most efficient panels, you can pay just under R2500. It gets even cheaper if you buy a pallet of Panels.

Don’t forget that you will need mountings for your solar panels which costs around R855.00 per panel for a pitched, tiled roof.

Solar Panel Mounting Kit
R 855.00
View Product
JA Solar 380W Mono MBB Percium Half-Cell Black Frame MC4
R 2,180.00
View Product
Canadian Solar 420W Super High Power Poly PERC HiKU with EVO2
R 2,490.00
View Product

CHAPTER 8

How The Panel Fits In With A System

How do panels fit in with a system
 Panels cannot work independently ; they need other components to work as a complete system.

Understanding how each item works within a solar system will help you make the right choices when choosing a kit.

In this section, we’ll explain  which products are a necessity and which products are optional .

Home Diagram

House Diagram

Along with the solar panels, you will also need or want the following:

The Inverter

The inverter plays a vital role within every solar system, converting the DC power to AC power.

Your panels produce DC power, and your batteries store DC power. You need the inverter to be able to use the generated and stored energy in your home.

Most plug-and-play inverters come with an MPPT installed inside the inverter, making installation quick and easy.

You can find out more about how inverters work and the different types available by reading our in-depth Solar Inverter Guide.

Growatt ES 5kW - High Voltage Inverter
Growatt ES 5kW - High Voltage Inverter
R 13,800.00
View Product
Fusion 5kW Hybrid Inverter
R 19,995.00
View Product
Fusion 8kW Hybrid Inverter
Fusion 8kW Hybrid Inverter
R 33,415.00
View Product
Inverter

Want to learn more about inverters?

We have an inverter guide that will further explain how inverters work, the different types and application of each type.

Click Here

Batteries

Batteries are an optional component. You are essentially using power on demand; this means they only use solar energy when the sun is shining.

Due to our ongoing load shedding dilemma in South Africa, most clients buy batteries for their systems.

If you spend most of your day at work and mostly use energy at night, batteries just make sense.

We have an informative guide on Solar Batteries, how they work, the different brands and how to calculate how many you need.

PylonTech US2000
PylonTech US2000C Plus 2.4kWh Lithium-ion Battery
R 13,340.00
View Product
Dyness 3.5kWh Lithium-ion Battery
Dyness 3.6kWh 48V Lithium-ion Battery
R 17,795.00
View Product
Fusion 4.8kWh Lithium-ion Battery
R 25,875.00
View Product
battery

Want to learn more about batteries?

We have a battery guide that will further explain how batteries work, the different types and application of each type.

Click Here

Solar Power Kits

Solar Power Kits have all the components you need; this is ideal for getting started quickly.

They have been designed with compatibility in mind, ensuring that you purchase complementary products so that no issues arise with your solar system.

When selecting products for our Solar Power Kits, we focus on quality and products that are in high demand.

We always have our clients in mind when we work on pricing and always try to keep our pricing fair.

If you don’t feel like mixing and matching different solar equipment, look at the Solar Power Kits section.

Some equipment and brands work better together; this is why buying a complete kit is not only optimal but cheaper.

The appeal when buying a complete kit includes:

  • Convenience, in the sense that they have all the necessary components.
  • You will save money; the solar panel price is lower when bought as a kit.
  • Kits consist of equipment and brands that work well together.
  • Learn all about Solar Power Kits in our in-depth article.
Solar Power Kit

Learn more about Solar Power Kits

We have a Solar Power Kit guide that will further explain the different components of these kits and how they work.

Click Here

CHAPTER 9

FAQ

FAQ
Let’s go through so  frequently asked questions  regarding solar panels.

If you have a question that wasn’t covered in the article or FAQs, please contact us.

What size solar panel do I need?

It depends on the inverter you have and how much space you have available to install the array. It’s also worth mentioning that most inverters will need at least two solar panels so that the inverter picks up that there is an array.

How many solar panels do I need?

You would need to work out what your daily/monthly usage is. Your array size will also be determined by the maximum PV array input set by your inverter.

How to calculate solar system size?

We have developed a couple of calculators to help you determine what size system you will need.
Our Solar Calculator will help you size up a system. View it here: Online Solar System Calculator

What size solar panel do I need?

It depends on the inverter you have and how much space you have available to install the array. It’s also worth mentioning that most inverters will need at least two solar panels so that the inverter picks up that there is an array.

What size solar panel do I need?

It depends on the inverter you have and how much space you have available to install the array. It’s also worth mentioning that most inverters will need at least two solar panels so that the inverter picks up that there is an array.

6 comments

  1. Chritie Engelbrecht

    I use at present 480 kilowat a month mainly at night,how many panels i need and size of back up battery and can i use at night a heater of 1,5 kilowat for 14 hours and what is total cost of the package?what happens in winter when here westcoast sometimes overcloud for 2 weeks?thankyou in advance also.

    1. Armando da silva

      Hi,

      480kw / 30 days = 16kw p/day
      16kw / 5.5 peak hours =2.91kw solar array
      2.91kw / 330w = 8.7 / 9 x 330w panels.

      The storage would be according to what % of that energy is required to be used at night. So if 50% is night usage, then 8kw back up is required.

  2. I am using 430kwh per month. I have gas stove usage 99% of the time, my geyser is retro fitted with the evt tubes.
    I am interested in the hybrid grid tie system.
    what system will be Ideal form me? At night I am mainly running fridge and freezer(24 hr run), TV and 1 or two two lights,rest of the lights go on only on demand.

    kindly help.

    1. Hi, thanks for sharing your monthly usage. The fact you have a solar geyser and you’re also on gas makes solar perfect for your situation.

      A Hybrid system will be perfect for you, here’s how we work out the size:

      430kwh * 30 days (1 month) / 5.5 (average sunlight hours a year) = 2.6kw

      So the max output is 2.6kwh, BUT to be safe we advise taking an Inverter that can handle more, so you can go for a 3.6kw or 4kw kit (we highly recommend the Goodwe version), so any of the kits here except the 2kw option: https://solaradvice.co.za/shop/solar-power/solar-power-kit/hybrid-solar-power-kits/

      Then you’ll need to consider your backup options, you can go for a 1.96kwh option and add later, or increase it to whatever you want, depending on how many hours you need in the evening.

      Average is around 4 hours plus appliances like your fridge and freezer. You will also have the grid to fall back on if some evenings you exceed this.

      Hope that helps, feel free to ask more questions, we love helping!

  3. Rohann van Zyl

    Good day! I am looking to bring my 980 units monthly down to under 600 units to stay in a certain tariff, i have 60A 3 phase supply (also solar geyser and gas hob)- and thought of getting a 3 phase 8kw pv solar inverter ( 30x 330W panels)for saving only (no battery backup. i have a few questions you might help me with, 1. what would the application to the city cost? 2. Will it be worth while spending R80 000 to do this? 3. i have a prepaid meter – would i need some smart meter or something. I really would like to Spend R900 instead of R2000 a month so i can pay back the system over 80 months (6 years) – does it seem possible? Thanks so much

    1. Hi, we will reply back via email as soon as we can get to your request.

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