Indeed, I have always been fascinated by the idea of using solar energy in general, and using it for one's home electricity needs in particular.
Having written extensively about deforestation, environmental pollution, global warming and other related topics for this site, I can almost physically feel just how much the Earth is now suffering from the destruction inflicted on it by us the humans, who love to call themselves the most intelligent species on this planet.
The vast majority of these environmental problems are caused by the way we use our natural resources - the materials that we have to make our lives enjoyable and comfortable.
Without exaggeration, the most environmentally damaging and, in my opinion, the most outrageous action we continue to take is our addiction-like use of dirty oil, gas and coal resources to power our excessively consumerist lifestyles.
Ok, I can understand that when many decades ago oil was discovered as a valuable input for power generation, science may not have yet known how to effectively harness the sun's rays and convert them into a usable form of energy.
But I have no doubt that the Big Oil has been doing its best for many years to hinder (to put it mildly) the development of solar energy to the level where it could be applied on a massive scale, and could irreversibly replace the polluting sources of power.
Anyway, enough of the rant.
Thankfully, as we move further into the 21st century, there is an air of optimism about new solar technologies coming into play - and raising our hopes really high for the better energy future of our children.
I have been recently so excited when I found out that you can actually build your own solar panels and use them to cover at least part of your home power needs.
Wow! Who would have thought!
Obviously, there are many precautions you would need to take if you are serious about using diy solar panels for your home - that is a subject for another article.
But for now, I am interested to know:
There are several components which you will need to use if you want to build your own solar panel.
The main one is of course a solar cell.
While a typical solar cell consists of several layers of different material, its most important component is a semiconductor, such as silicon, alongside other material inputs, for example, doping agents such as phosphorus and boron.
The three most common types of solar cells are monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous (thin-film) cells.
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells most commonly contain silicon as their semiconductor, and amorphous cells - cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide and some other compounds.
We'll want to learn more about the environmental aspects of monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells - since these are the types of cells you'll be using for your own diy solar panels.
Even though it is the second most abundant element in the Earth's crust, silicon must be of the highest possible grade to be used in monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells.
And that is the trick.
Silicon has to be totally purified and superheated (at around 2200 °C) and then formed into blocks to be cut into solar cells.
Without knowing the details of this process, I assume that it would require some specialized equipment as well as large amounts of input energy to produce this "new energy". And that will have some sort of environmental impact, unavoidably.
Having said that, the mining of silicon-containing resources (sand, for example) does not appear to be a big environmental issue since silicon is so abundant in nature. So this is a big "environmental" plus here, of course.
I am not aware of other secondary elements, such as boron and phosphorus, being an "environmental problem" in this process.
Of course, there are other materials except solar cells such as tabbing wire, wood / aluminum, flux and so on whose production will also involve some sort of "environmental sacrifice".
But I really cannot even start to compare this to the damage being continuously inflicted on the environment by the development, production and use of petroleum resources. Just read my article on what "the oil boom" had done to Ecuador rainforest during the last several decades, and you will need no further proof.
Should I mention any air pollution effects we have to deal with as a result of our uncontrollable use of fossil fuels?
And I do not even bring up the human cost of some well-known military conflicts that some representatives of our race have to endure on a daily basis.
Please prove me wrong if you can.
How long your diy solar panels will last will very much depend on the quality of materials you will be using as well as the quality of your work.
For example, if you are planning to use aluminum for your panel's frame construction then your panel will most likely last longer than the one made of wood.
Also, using new undamaged solar cells will guarantee a smaller chance of fault inside your panels than using broken solar cells.
If you are totally new to this subject, you'll probably need to make a couple of panels (making a couple of mistakes first :)) before you can get the hang of it. If you don't know anything about electricity, the best (and perhaps the only) way to guarantee the longevity and complete safety of your system is to ask a qualified electrician to install the system in your house.
The climatic conditions in your area can also affect the performance of your solar system.
Obviously, it is impossible to put a hard number on how many years your diy solar panels will last.
But if you were to buy a ready-made solar system for your home from a licensed contractor, the average guarantee that most companies will issue you with will be around 25 years.
The beauty of diy solar panels is that once they are installed and functioning well, there is very little you need to do to keep them running.
From the environmental point of view, solar panels are really very "clean and green".
They do not require any dirty "input" energy - their only source of energy is the sun.
They do not emit any greenhouse gases (or any other pollutants) into the atmosphere.
Basically, their environmental impact is limited to the pollution caused at the stage of their manufacturing as already discussed above.
Written by: Irina Gray of Tropical-Rainforest-Animals.com