A solar panel is made up of a bunch of solar cells. Each of these cells generate electricity from light through a process called the photovoltaic effect. So you may also see a solar panel called a photovoltaic panel.
Several factors determine how much electricity a solar panel can generate. Some of these factors are quite complex, like the different materials a panel can be made from. But others are pretty intuitative, such as the amount of light that reaches the panel.
For the sake of simplicity, let's group some of the more complex factors into efficiency. This will include the specifics of the solar panel technology. Let's take a look at the remaining factors and how they affect the total power generated by a solar panel.
Adjust the controls to see how the different parameters affect the output of the solar panel
Watch how the solar panel output changes as you adjust the sliders. What do you notice about the best angles for the solar panel and the sun?
Just a bit of explanation: Atmospheric absorption is the percent of solar energy that gets absorbed or reflected by the atmosphere before it ever reaches the solar panel. For instance, clouds reflect solar energy away from the planet. Even when they don't cast a noticeable shadow on the solar panel they can reduce the amount of light that reaches it. What other things can you think of that would count as atmospheric absorption?
Panel Output (percent)
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Use the simulation to answer these questions. You can scroll back up to the simulation at any time.
Adjust the angle of the sun to 0 degrees. Then adjust the angle of the panel until it reaches its maximum output. What is the best angle for the panel?
Adjust the angle of the sun to 90 degrees. Then adjust the angle of the panel until it reaches its maximum output. What is the best angle for the panel?
Pick a new angle for the sun. Set the angle of the panel so that the angles add up to 90 degrees. What do you notice about the output of the panel?
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