What is Solar Energy and How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar energy has been around for many years. It has been used in a variety of applications over the years. In recent times however, solar energy has become more widely used with the growing number of solar panel systems installed on residential rooftops across the world.
Before we answer the question ‘How Do Solar Panels Work?’ we need to first establish what is solar energy anyways?
What Is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is a great solution in addressing the climate crisis. The sun provides a source of clean and renewable energy that is both inexpensive and readily available. The power of solar to help combat climate change should not be underestimated.
Solar energy also provides homeowners with an opportunity to gain independence from their current utility company in a way that has not be possible in the past.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
Our Sun is a natural nuclear reactor. It releases tiny packets of energy called photons, which travel the 93 million miles from the sun to Earth in about 8.5 minutes.
Every hour, enough photons are absorbed to theoretically provide energy for the entire world for an entire year. This is more than the power currently generated by all the world’s photovoltaic plants combined.
Solar technology is improving and the cost of going solar is dropping rapidly, so our ability to harness the sun’s abundance of energy is on the rise.
In 2017, the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that solar had become the world’s fastest-growing source of power—marking the first time that solar had outpaced the growth of all other fuels.
Solar energy is no longer a fledgling, but a mature technology with many markets, and billions of dollars at stake.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
When a photon hits a solar cell, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. These electrons can move through a conductive material and produce a current. This is why we use solar cells in some modern technologies.
Solar power isn’t really new, but the cost of solar has declined so fast that solar energy is now competitive with fossil fuels in many places. Solar is still not the most efficient way to generate electricity, but that may change in the near future. In addition to efficiency, solar can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
What are Solar Panels Made of?
As we begin to answer the question how do solar panels work, one of the next questions that we will have will be what exactly are the solar panels made out of?
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are made up of many solar cells. Solar cells are made of silicon, like semiconductors. They are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer, which together create an electric field, just like in a battery.
How Do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?
PV (photovoltaic) solar panels create direct current (DC) electricity. With DC electricity, electrons flow in one direction around a circuit. This example shows a battery powering a light bulb.
The electrons move from the negative side of the battery, through the lamp, and return to the positive side of the battery. Electrons are forced to move in a particular direction with alternating current (AC) electricity just as they are on a rotating car engine.
Electricity generation is a vital part of any community. To produce enough of it, we need reliable and efficient energy sources. The electric power plant is at the heart of most large communities, and it’s the largest power consumer in the world.
The United States has selected AC electrical power for its electrical power grid primarily because it is less expensive to transmit over long distances. However, solar panels create DC electricity.
The electricity system is a network of generating sources, transmission and distribution lines that carry power from the generators to the loads. The generation of electricity occurs where energy is converted from mechanical to electrical energy. It also occurs at the points in the power distribution network where the network splits and merges, and at the loads where electricity is consumed or put back into the grid.
What Does a Solar Inverter Do?
A solar inverter converts DC electricity into AC electricity for use in homes and businesses. They can also perform several other functions. For example, they can also sense problems with the grid or with individual components in a solar array. They can provide an accurate estimate of the amount of energy being produced by the system, and keep track of the amount of energy stored in batteries.
Central inverters dominate the solar industry since the beginning, with central inverters taking the entire solar system into consideration rather than each individual panel. Micro-inverters were recently introduced that make the power conversion process more efficient for every single solar cell.
This enables every solar panel to perform at maximum potential. When a central inverter is used, having a problem on one solar panel (maybe it’s in the shade or has gotten dirty) can drag down the performance of the entire solar array.
Micro-inverters, such as the ones in SunPower’s Equinox home solar system, make this a non-issue. If one solar panel has an issue, the rest of the solar array still performs efficiently.
How do solar panels save you money?
Solar panels are an excellent way to reduce the cost of electricity – they can help you save money, especially when combined with a whole-house battery backup system. The average US household could save $1,300 annually from a combination of solar panels and a home battery backup system.
Assuming a 3.4% annual increase in electricity prices (inflation), you can get a good deal by investing in solar panels. You will receive your money back in the form of clean energy now, with electricity savings of up to 30% for each dollar invested.
Calculating your savings from investing in solar is as simple as subtracting the amount you pay for solar from what you would have paid for electricity otherwise. Your return on investment is the difference in the cost of your electricity and the amount you paid for solar.
This savings has the potential to be even LARGER when you factor in state and federal incentives, such as the Federal Tax Credit.