How Do Solar Panels Work?

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At Sullivan Solar Power, we have had extensive training into the innerworkings of a residential solar system, so it is easy to take the basics for granted. One of the most common questions we hear is, “How do solar panels work?” The answer is not as complex as it may seem. Let’s follow the energy’s path as it makes its way from our sun to your home.

Solar Energy

The sun produces energy in the form of photons. These are particles of light that travel through space and make their way to earth’s atmosphere. This energy is the lifeblood of our planet and already indirectly powers everything we see. Plants feed off this energy to grow, animals eat the plants, animals eventually die and ultimately become the source of fossil fuels which must be burned to create usable energy. Since it takes millions of years for animals and plants to become fossil fuels, earth is sitting on a finite quantity of these resources and the process of converting them to usable energy is dirty. In other words, these sources of energy are neither renewable nor clean.

Solar panels allow us to cut out the middle man. Instead of waiting millions of years and polluting our environment, solar panels convert the solar energy into usable electricity right at the source.

How does a solar panel convert solar energy into electricity?

Electricity is the result of the flow of charged particles (a current). Opposites attract, so negatively charged particles (electrons) naturally flow to positively charged particles (protons, not to be confused with photons). Solar cells are designed with a positive side and a negative side. When a photon from the sun hits a solar panel, electrons are knocked loose from the negative side and naturally seek a positively charged proton to pair up with. As the electrons flow to the protons, this creates a direct current of electricity, otherwise known as DC electricity. However, this electricity is not quite ready for home consumption. First it needs a little makeover.

What does a solar inverter do?

The vast majority of electronics and home appliances run off of alternating current (AC) power. As mentioned above, solar panels create DC power. An inverter simply performs this transformation. DC electricity enters the inverter, and usable AC electricity comes out the other end. From here, the electricity travels through your home and powers your lights, keeps your food cold and charges your electric vehicles.

What happens to the extra electricity I produce but don’t use?

Most residential solar systems in California are grid-connected. This means that when your system is not producing energy, such as at night, you can still purchase electricity from the utility. As a corollary, when your system is producing more power than you need, you can sell electricity back to the utility. This is called net metering. If your solar panels create more energy than you consume in a given year, you will have a net credit. If they produce you less than you need, you will have a net debit. A perfectly sized system will attempt to result in a net zero situation. Net metering is what makes solar the excellent financial investment that it is.

Another solution is solar battery storage. If your system includes a battery, your extra energy production can be stored on site and used in the event of a blackout. Due to changes in the utilities’ billing structures, particularly time-of-use billing, a creatively designed system can utilize a battery to create additional savings opportunities. As the top LG Chem Solar Battery installer in the United States, Sullivan Solar Power is uniquely qualified to help our customers take full advantage of this.

Now you have the basics on how solar panels work, what now?

If you are interested in learning more about the economic and environmental benefits of installing a state-of-the-art battery included solar system on your home, you can check out our upcoming educational seminars here. Or if you would like to speak with a member of our project development team for a free energy analysis and proposal, call today or click here to reach us via email and schedule an appointment.

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