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Flat-Plate Photovoltaic System Basics

August 20, 2013 - 4:03pm


The most common photovoltaic (PV) array design uses flat-plate PV modules or panels. These panels can be fixed in place or allowed to track the movement of the 

Illustration of a cutaway of a typical flat-plate module. The layers, in order from top to bottom, are: cover film, solar cell, encapsulant, substrate, cover film, seal, gasket, and frame.
One typical flat-plate module design uses a
substrate of metal, glass, or plastic to provide
structural support in the back; an encapsulant
material to protect the cells; and a transparent
cover of plastic or glass.

sun. They respond to sunlight that is direct or diffuse. Even in clear skies, the diffuse component of sunlight accounts for between 10% and 20% of the total solar radiation on a horizontal surface. On partly sunny days, up to 50% of that radiation is diffuse, and on cloudy days, 100% of the radiation is diffuse.

The simplest PV array consists of flat-plate PV panels in a fixed position. The advantages of fixed arrays are that they lack moving parts, there is virtually no need for extra equipment, and they are relatively lightweight. These features make them suitable for many locations, including most residential roofs. But because the panels are fixed in place, their orientation to the sun is usually at an angle that is less than optimal. Therefore, fixed arrays collect less energy per unit area of array than tracking arrays. However, this drawback must be balanced against the higher cost of the tracking system.

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