A solar panel is a solar panel is a solar panel. Or is it really? Just how does solar energy work anyway? And are all solar panels created equally? Well basically, yes. A solar panel, in simplest terms, is a box that holds several solar cells connected together. It does take a rather large number of solar cells wired together correctly to produce a usable amount of power, however.
Solar cells are fragile and chip or crack easily, most retailers sell them in bundles that have to be separated. New pristine solar cells can be very expensive, but second rate, blemished or cracked solar cells can be obtained for a fraction of the cost and work just as well. Check into manufacturer’s seconds or rejects, or hop onto online warehouses and see what you can find.
The size of your solar panel has more to do with its power output than does the condition of the solar cell. Second hand, chipped, or damaged solar cells absorb just as much solar energy as perfect ones (or the difference is so minimal, there really is no difference). As with clothing that has a seam stitched with the wrong color thread, there’s nothing really mechanically wrong with the product, but it still cannot be sold for 100% perfect market value because of the aesthetic inconsistency.
Solar cells do vary in size and type but in general the same type of cell produces the same amount of voltage no matter what size it is. The size of the cell effects how many amps the cell can produce. The total power output of your panel will be the number of volts x the number of amps, chipped cells or not. The bigger the panel the more power it will be able to produce. Keep in mind the area you have available for the panel, bigger panels require more space.
Mono-crystalline solar cells come in a variety of sizes, 3″ x 6″ being the most common. To produce 36 of these cells wired together to produce about 18 volts (that’s about enough to charge a 12v battery). If you order from an online warehouse or individual the cells may be damaged further during shipping. Many suppliers encase the cells in plastic or dip them in wax to prevent any additional chipping or cracking but this can sometimes make the cells harder to get apart and work with. In general try to purchase cells that already have metal tabs attached to them, this will reduce the amount of soldering you have to do later (Davis, 2009).
So, buy your chipped, cracked, or otherwise disheveled solar cells with confidence. Even though they may be a little rough around the edges, they are still going to collect solar energy and keep the lights and appliances in your home running along smoothly. After all, as Shakespeare put it, “a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet … ” and your solar cell, cracked or not, is still going to absorb the Sun’s rays and pass them on to your power grid.
Davis, M. (2009) How I built an electricity producing solar panel. mdpub.com. Retrieved May 22, 2010