What are hybrid solar panels? Should you install them?

Professionals and enthusiasts who work in the sustainable energy field already know about the Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Collectors, which is in layman’s term is known as ‘Solar Panels’, produces electricity from solar radiation. Photovoltaic Thermal (PVT) Hybrid Solar Collectors are basically the same, but just with something more. PVT collectors produce electricity in the same way as regular PV panels. But they also have a solar thermal collector, which transfers the otherwise unused waste heat from the PV module to a heat transfer fluid. By combining electricity and heat generation within the same component, these technologies can reach a higher overall efficiency than solar photovoltaic (PV) or solar thermal alone.

Solar PV is a great technology that has grown leaps and bounds particularly over the last two decades. But its efficiency remains around 20 percent even in premium panels. Only 20 percent of the energy intercepted by the solar panel is converted into electricity, the rest of the 80 percent is lost. Now this may not be important for people that have large roof areas for installing solar panels, but for people with limited roof space, like in an urban setting that 80 percent lost energy means a lot. Additionally, it normally takes a long time (8 yrs. – 20 yrs.) to get your money back for PV panels. But now imagine if you got 80% energy out of the panels instead of the 20%. That would cut the payback period by 4 times! Moreover, the current PV panels available at the market tend to heat up to 70°C at the surface due to continuous exposure to sunlight, ultimately reducing output even more and degrading quickly at high temperature. To mitigate this issue, scientists came up with a solution incorporate a heat exchanger at the back of the panel that’ll remove heat from PV cell surface and improve the output and longevity of the PV panels. And thus, Hybrid PVT solar collectors are born!

Hybrid PVT panels are a combination of solar PV and solar thermal panels, installed in layers. The first two layers are the transparent insulation layer and the PV cells, which produce DC electrical power.

Below the PV cell, Heat accumulator absorbs the remaining solar energy, that is not converted into electrical energy, and transmits this energy to hydronic coil where a heat transfer fluid is heated. The Heated Fluid can be used for various applications such as space Heating, process heating, domestic hot water and swimming pool heating and many other applications.

PVT collectors combine the generation of solar electricity (19%) and heat (70%) in a single component, and thus achieve a higher overall efficiency and better utilization of the solar spectrum than conventional PV modules. Hybrid PVT panels can have efficiency as high as 89 and can generate 4 times the energy produced from the same surface area for only 25% increase in cost. Studies have shown that active heat removal systems in PVT panels can improve the PV cell life from 30 years to 50 years. So, heat removal not only improves the instantaneous performance of the solar PV cells but also adds longevity to their life. 20% higher annual output of electricity has been reported for PV alone in a PVT system compared to a non-PVT system.

Despite being highly efficient, only a small number of companies in the world are producing it and only a fraction of consumers is using it. The main reason behind that is in summertime a lot of heat is generated but there is no use for it. This makes it unviable practically and financially to implement the panels without a year-round heat load.

In summer months, there is not use for the heat; but the cooling is at its peak. Enersion has developed a technology that produces space cooling using heat instead of electricity. This results in a perfect combination with the hybrid PVT panels. The resultant ‘Energy-Cubed’ solution from Enersion can provide a consumer space cooling during Summer, space heating during winter and electricity all year round, essentially cutting energy bills by up to 70%. Moreover, this solution does not use any synthetic refrigerants which are used in traditional air conditioners that harm the environment. So, if you are looking for sustainable future with ‘Net-Zero’ emissions, Enersion’s Energy-Cubed is the way to go.

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