How Does Solar Energy Work?

Have you ever wondered exactly how those solar panels on roofs and in fields are able to harness energy from the sun? It’s pretty fascinating when you understand the basics of how solar electric systems work. In this article, we’ll walk through the key components and processes that allow solar panels to convert sunlight into usable electricity.

Capturing Photons from Sunlight

Solar panels are made up of solar cells, which contain special materials called semiconductors. When photons (particles of sunlight) hit these solar cells, they excite the electrons in the semiconductors into a higher state of energy. This causes the electrons to break free from their atoms and flow through the material to generate an electric current. The solar cells are wired together into solar panels to combine all of their electric currents and provide a useful amount of solar electric power.

Converting Direct Current to Alternating Current

The electricity that solar panels generate is in the form of direct current (DC). But our homes, appliances, and electrical grid all run on alternating current (AC). So the solar electric system needs an inverter to convert the DC into usable AC. The inverter plays an important role in not only changing the type of electricity, but also turning the variable flow of electricity into a steady stream that can meet demand.

Connecting to the Grid or Storage Batteries

For grid-connected solar electric systems, the AC power flows from the inverter directly into your home’s electric panel to power your appliances and devices. When your solar panels produce more electricity than your home is using, the excess power is pushed back into the utility grid. Your electric meter essentially runs backwards, crediting your future energy consumption.

For off-grid solar systems without a utility connection, batteries are used to store the excess solar electricity for use at night. When the sun isn’t shining, the batteries discharge stored energy to meet your electricity needs. This allows solar power to provide round-the-clock renewable energy regardless of weather or sunlight conditions.

Understanding these basic elements helps demystify how incredible solar panel technology can leverage the sun’s energy. With no ongoing fuel costs, solar electric systems can provide clean, renewable power for decades. According to EcoFlow, you can save $100 to $150 monthly on electric bills with an average five kW residential solar system. If you’re ready to learn more about solar for your home, give Solar Energy Solutions of America a call.