How Solar Power Works – Explained For Beginners


How Solar Power Works - Explained For Beginners

Solar power allows the sun’s energy to be captured, converted to energy, and used as power. We can capture this energy through the use of solar panels.

Solar power can work through a series of steps. In short, the sunlight will activate the solar panels, which will cause cells to produce an electrical current. Then this electrical energy is converted to electricity to power whatever is needed.

If you’re curious about how solar power works, keep reading. This article will explain how solar power works and how you can use the sun to supply electricity.

How Solar Energy Works

The sun is a giant power supply, sending energy particles called photons to the earth. Solar energy can capture those photons and use them to power:

  • Homes,
  • Businesses,
  • Recreational vehicles, etc.

Currently, only about two percent of the world’s electricity is being produced by solar power. This number could be significantly increased if we can harness more of the energy we receive from the sun. Solar energy is incredibly accessible, and as we create more technology, we will only be able to expand the use of solar power more and more.

There is hope, as solar power is currently the fastest-growing source of power on the planet. If the planet can shift our energy use and capture more solar energy, we will set up the future for a cleaner planet and better energy sources.

Who is Using Solar Panel Systems

Solar panel systems are being set up mostly in homes, but businesses are beginning to use them as well.  Solar panels are placed on roofs so they can absorb optimal sunlight. As the sunlight hits the roof, the panels convert the energy to DC, which then flows to an inverter.

DC stands for direct current, which means the electric charge only flows in one direction.

The inverter’s job is to take the direct current and change it to an alternating current (AC), which can change directions periodically. You are then able to use this AC to power your home or business.

The power supplied to your home or business through the inverter’s converted solar energy is clean, efficient, and most of all, you are making the most of a renewable resource that will always be accessible.

Solar power is by far the most accessible of the renewable sources, which is why it is so important to increase access to it.

Solar Storage Systems

In the case that you obtain more solar energy from the panels than what you actually use in your home, there are solar storage systems available that allow you to be able to store the excess energy for later. This energy is typically stored on-site, which reduces the home’s reliance on grid-energy to provide their power.

Most solar storage systems not only allow you to store solar energy for later, but they also allow you to monitor several aspects of your home’s solar products, including the following:

• Home energy use

• Solar production

• Utility rates

Adding a solar storage system to your solar panel unit allows you to be able to get the absolute most out of the energy being provided by the sun. Sun storage will also allow you to be more environmentally and financially friendly.

How Does Weather Temperature Effect Solar Power?

Weather does have an effect on how efficient solar panels can be in several different ways. Of course, a solar panel will be able to gain energy when it is sunny outside. However, they actually work more efficiently in colder temperatures.

Solar panels are an electronic device, and as most electronics do, they work more efficiently in colder weather. Although more efficient in cooler weather, you should still expect your solar panels to produce more energy in the summer simply because there is typically more exposure to sunlight.

The weather is definitely a big factor when determining whether or not to get solar panels. Certain climates will not be optimal for solar use due to their limited number of sunny days; however, there are still ways to use solar power in a variety of locations. 

How Does Location Effect Solar?

Living in a sunny location will, of course, be the best area to live in order to get optimal use of solar energy. However, there are ways to obtain solar power in other locations. Even in locations that are a bit cloudier, solar power is still able to work.

The sun can still penetrate through the clouds, which is why cities such as Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Boston, etc., are all able to use solar energy.

Depending on the amount of cloud cover over a given area, the efficiency of solar panels could be reduced by 10 to 25 percent.

Depending on the state you live in, some power companies have the resources to be able to support solar power users by giving them a return on their investment. By doing this, power companies influence customers to shift to more solar energy.

What Materials are Used to Make Solar Panels?

Common solar panels are called photovoltaic solar panels, and they are made up of lots of solar cells. These solar cells are made of silicon and create an electric field because they have both a positive and negative layer. This electric field is ultimately why solar energy can work and how we can harness it.

There are three main materials used in a solar panel:

  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Silicon – There are two types of silicon that are most commonly used in solar panels: monocrystalline silicon and polycrystalline silicon.

Monocrystalline panels are formed by creating one large block of silicon and then breaking them down into wafer formats that can be affixed onto a solar panel. On the other hand, polycrystalline is produced by melting silicon crystals together to be infused into the panel itself.

What is Photovoltaics?

Photovoltaics is used in solar panels because it is the direct conversion of light to electricity, all at the atomic level. Materials used in solar panels can absorb the photons of light coming from the sun and release electrons afterward. This is known as the photoelectric effect.

The photoelectric effect is the exact reason why solar panels can exist and are how we can use silicon to convert solar energy into solar power. Photovoltaic solar panels’ models always produce direct current (DC) electricity, which is then converted to an alternating current (AC).

You are then able to use the alternating current produced in the form of electricity. 

Why Use Silicon?

Silicon is used in solar panels because it is a semi-conductor, which means silicon is able to either conduct electrons or insulate them. There is also a lot of science behind the choice of silicon, such as making the decision based on atoms and electrons.

Silicon atoms create a stable structure when bonded with four outer electrons, which means that if silicon were mixed with an element with a different number of electrons, the structure would be unbalanced.

When boron is mixed with silicon, there is a hole created in the structure. The holes in the structure can be mobile and carry a positive charge, which results in P-type silicon. When phosphorus is mixed with silicon, it only bonds four out of five electrons, leaving the fifth free. These free electrons carry a negative charge, resulting in N-type silicon.

P and N-type silicon form an electric field when layered together because the electrons and holes that come together. The electric field forms then repel the free holes and electrons, which results in them not moving between layers.

How a Solar Panel Creates Electricity

Solar panels generate direct current energy, which, as we discussed earlier, means that the energy is only flowing in one direction. However, the direct current is able to be converted into alternating current electricity, which allows for the current to flow in both directions resulting in usable electricity.

Converting solar rays to power is a surprisingly simple process, as it is really just revolving around the use and conversion of direct currents to alternating currents. After converting to an alternating current, solar energy works just as the power coming  from the city’s power grid would.

Solar power works similarly to other forms of energy, such as hydroelectric, as it is the energy that is being converted from one form to another. The energy is then turned into electricity, which can be used to power homes, businesses, etc.

What is a Solar Inverter?

A solar inverter is the most important role there is to play when it comes to setting up a solar power system. The solar inverter is what is going to invert the direct current into an alternating current so it can be used as power.

In addition to being the converter of energy, solar inverters have several other capabilities to help the entire system operate. Some of these capabilities include:

• Data monitoring

• System design engineering

• Utility controls

Solar inverters are essential to any solar power system, and they can help you resolve any issues that could come up in a solar power system. If you are planning on having a solar power system in your home or business, you need to make sure to get an inverter that will be able to do the job and do it well.

Newer Materials Being Used in Solar Panels

Silicon is considered to be the most common material used in solar panels. However, there are newer, smaller, and less expensive crystals are being used in solar panels to see if there is a more cost-efficient option for creating solar energy.

One of the most common materials being looked into is copper-indium-gallium-selenide, which can be manipulated and formed into flexible films that can then be used to capture solar power.

While this copper-based material is less expensive, it still does not work as well as silicon does to produce solar energy. Most are sticking with silicon because while it is a bit pricier, it works the most efficiently for a solar system.

How Efficient Are Solar Panels?

One of the most important aspects to look at when choosing a form of energy is how efficient that source is going to be. Solar energy efficiency depends on several factors, including location, weather, and solar panel placement.

On average, the power efficiency of a basic crystalline silicon cell is about 22 to 23 percent. This means that the solar panel can convert about 23 percent of the light that the solar panel was exposed to into energy.

Unfortunately, solar panels do require a lot of materials and resources to make, which can decrease the panel’s overall efficiency. With new advancements, the hope is to create more efficient solar technology, from building the panel to actually putting it into action.

How Solar Power is Renewable

Solar power is a renewable resource because we will never run out of sunlight. The sun is a perfect example of a renewable resource because it is reliable, requires little maintenance, and will be able to keep going all by itself.

This also means that solar power is incredibly sustainable. Aside from actually making the panels themselves, solar energy is completely renewable, and once the panels are in place, you almost never have to worry about them again.

In order for the planet to convert to more renewable resources, we need to generate more solar power and get the absolute most out of the energy being provided by the sun. In the future, this could increase the need for more efficient solar power, but for now, the technology simply needs to be spread.

Solar Energy in the Home

Having solar power in the home calls for several different things that need to be monitored, but for the most part, solar power is very hands-free with the right equipment. Many homeowners are choosing to go solar and have their own personal panels on their roofs. In order for this to be effective, you are going to need several utility items aside from the actual panels. These items include:

  • An inverter to convert the energy
  • An electric service panel for control
  • A meter that will be able to monitor the production of your system and track your energy production 24/7

For those still connected to local utility companies, it is common that not all of the sun’s energy is going to be used in the home. In those instances, power companies often will buy back the excess energy your panels produced, and it will be credited towards your monthly electric bill. 

Solar Energy for a Business

There are many factors that determine whether or not a business will be a good fit for commercial solar power use. Some of these include:

  • Operating in states such as California, Hawaii, or the Northeast where conventional energy is expensive
  • The number of locations in the business
  • The amount of available rooftop space
  • The business’ commitment to sustainability

Whatever the case, going solar can help a business grow and grow sustainably. Depending on the business’s size and the amount of electricity that will need to be produced, solar panels are placed in the most efficient ways possible.

Going solar gives the business an opportunity to control operating costs, as well as have the opportunity to potentially be eligible for solar grants and tax credits, which can help save money and grow your business.

State-Wide Solar

Many states are turning to solar power instead of conventional methods to be able to provide sustainable energy for their citizens. Some states such as California, New York, and Texas are converting to solar energy because of access and the jobs that are being created because of it.

In some states, the Solar Energy Industries Association advocates for more pro-solar policies, including fair compensation for states providing solar energy in forms of electricity and actual money.

In the United States, there are currently:

  • 250,000 Americans working in the solar industry
  • 2,662,164 solar energy systems that have been installed throughout the nation
  • 88.9 GW of total solar capacity that has been installed nationwide

Conclusion:

Solar Power is an extremely sustainable resource that works by harnessing the sun’s energy and converting it into power, which can be used in households and businesses. By converting the direct current being produced by the solar panels to alternating current, the panels are able to create electricity.

There is a lot of science behind how solar power works, but in the simplest of terms, it is the simple conversion of a direct current to an alternating current. With the use of solar panels, inverters, data monitors, and production meters, a complete solar system is able to create and provide electricity.

As advances continue to be made, it is becoming increasingly accessible to be able to use solar power in the home. Although it is still currently on the expensive side to be able to access solar energy, hopefully, with increased technology as well as research, we will be able to provide everyone with clean and sustainable solar energy.

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Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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