How Solar Power Works
Solar energy is a great alternative for anyone who values independence and efficiency. Start using flexible, lightweight solar now.
First Ingredient: The Sun
Solar is now the fastest growing choice to generate electricity in the United States. Every 2.5 minutes home or business installs new solar panels. In fact, You’ve probably noticed solar panels on roofs or along highways.
You may have wondered: How exactly do solar panels work?
Generating electricity requires fuel. Conventional power plants use coal for fuel. Natural gas is forced to the earth’s surface and transported via long pipelines.
Clearly, it’s a labor intensive and sometimes destructive process to obtain and deliver fuels used in electricity production.
The damage continues as the fuel is used to produce electricity. The fuels undergo a combustion process that produces air pollutants. Nuclear power presents the risk of radioactive leaks.
Solar, on the other hand, uses a very safe type of fuel. It is sunlight. No mining, no pipelines, and no moving of the earth.
Just sunlight which is abundant, safe, and clean. The sun is an endless resource. That’s why solar power is referred to as renewable energy.
Solar energy also referred to as photovoltaics or PV. It describes the way solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. Photons are particles of light. Voltaic refers to electricity.
Other kinds of solar energy are solar thermal and concentrating solar power. But PV is most common. There are certain materials that need to be used in order to convert sunlight, which we will talk about below.
Second ingredient: The Solar Panel
When sunlight travels, the process of making electricity begins. The speed of light is about 93 million miles from the sun and falls on the solar panel.
Several panels together are called a solar array.
What are solar panels?
The solar panel is called a module. It’s typically a four-cornered, plate-like structure made up of silicon cells, a form of the semiconductor.
The cells contain electrons. Certain substances are applied to the cells to create a magnetic field. Cells have a positive and negative charge.
When the sunlight shines on the cells, it destabilizes the electrons, freeing the negatively-charged electrons to flow to one side of the silicon cell. The movement produces a flow or current of electricity. Metal conductors gather the electricity and transfer it to wires.
Third Ingredient: The Solar Inverter
Solar panels create electricity that’s not compatible with the US electric system. Homes use alternating current, or AC electricity, which is different from DC electricity
The USA chose to use AC because it is more efficient for electricity to flow. It includes high voltage transmission.
We need to make the DC electricity produced by solar panels into AC electricity.
Solar inverter comes into play here. Sometimes it is called a solar converter. The box is usually placed near the fuse. This box plays a major role to allow the use of solar energy.
This is where the energy gets converted from DC to AC and becomes usable for homes.
If the power outage occurs, the inverter might have a small amount of battery power. In this case, the house will still receive energy. Micro-inverters are placed underneath the solar panels. When are solar panels considered to be efficient?
Not all solar panels operate with the same efficiency.
Efficiency is determined – how much of the sunlight reaching the panel actually converts to electricity. The more efficient your solar panels, the fewer of them needed. Solar panels efficiency is especially important if you have limited space on your roof or shaded areas on the roof. Price is not necessarily a factor in seeking out efficiency. What you save in buying fewer panels, you may lose by paying more for the efficient models.
Solar and Your Utility Meter
The important component of the system is the utility meter. It tracks how much solar electricity your home produces. Your bill will be less if your solar panels generate more electricity than you use.
If “net metering” is available, save more money. Net metering gives you bill credit for extra electricity that produced, but not used. Excess power flows back to the central grid.
Meters are getting smarter, and are now able to accomplish more. Smart meters open the door to give consumers the ability to better control their energy costs.
Electricity prices change many times per day. It is very similar to the stock market. Consumers don’t know about these price changes. They pay retail rates regulated by their state.
Consumers can take advantage of smart meters and know about the fluctuation and know the savings on the utility bills.
The smart meter will record the spending.
Some homeowners with solar panels and batteries are even more sophisticated. They rely on solar energy from the battery power when utility electricity prices are high and go back to the grid when the prices are low.
Solar energy prices never change. Sunlight as fuel costs nothing.
The Cost Advantage of On-site Energy
Using free fuel, sunlight is just one cost advantage of solar energy. Another is that rooftop PV is on-site energy.
You produce energy at home. It does not need to travel long distances. This is especially important when you take into account what is known in industry terms as “line loss.” It is the loss when it is sent over a transmission or distribution wire.
Am I Now Off-the-Grid?
Once the solar panels are installed, the inverter is working, and the smart meter is helping you use electricity wisely.
Are you officially off-grid now? Sorry, but no.
Most American homes with solar panels stay connected to the central grid. This is good and bad. It’s good because when the sun isn’t shining, you can rely on utility power. It’s bad because if there is a blackout on the utility grid, the solar panels stop to work as well.
Homeowners aren’t always aware of this. There is a way to avoid this. Homeowners can use solar storage or home microgrids.
These systems include battery banks that provide back-up power. So when the utility grid goes down, your house still has power. These systems are growing in popularity as both solar panels and batteries drop in price.
Is My Electricity Supply Now Green?
Yes, and no. Solar panel home is likely to be connected to the utility grid. It’s probably supplying some of your power.
By adding solar panels to the house, it significantly cuts back on the use of dirty energy and increased the use of green energy.
The more people who do this, the less the need to operate large power plants that can harm the earth, air, and our health.