How Do Solar Panels Work?

The sun provides constant energy to the Earth's surface. In fact, all sources of energy on Earth come from the sun in one way or another. Solar panels harness the sun's energy directly, providing a clean and efficient source of power. Using solar panels to power your home can help you save on energy expenses, achieve grid independence and reduce your carbon footprint. Owning solar panels is an attractive investment for any rural homeowner.

If you're considering investing in solar panels, you may find it helpful to learn how they work. Although most people are familiar with the idea of solar energy, not everyone understands what solar panels do — what actually happens within the system to produce electricity. Discover how solar panels can provide your rural home with energy.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Most solar energy systems convert sunlight into electricity or heat water. Some systems gather energy from the sun's heat — this technology is called thermal solar. However, most systems use solar panels with photovoltaic (PV) technology to harness the energy in the sun's rays.

How Does Photovoltaic Solar Work?

Most solar energy systems gather the sun's energy using photovoltaic cell technology to produce electrical charges. Each PV solar system consists of a collection of individual solar cells. To understand how a PV system works, you should know a bit about basic physics.

Solar cells contain electrons, which are tiny particles of matter that circulate atoms' nuclei. Electrons have a negative charge, which means they repel other electrons and are attracted to protons, like magnets. Electrons move and create an electrical current when exposed to energy, like photons. Photons are tiny packets of energy, not matter. The sun's rays contain photons, as do microwaves, X-rays and all other forms of electromagnetic rays.

PV technology converts the photons in sunlight to produce usable electricity. Each PV cell contains semiconductor materials that let electricity flow when exposed to energy, such as photons. The semiconductor is processed into a wafer to form a diode, which allows electricity to move in one direction only rather than multiple. The process works like this:

  1. The PV solar cells absorb the photons within sun rays.
  2. The photons interact with electrons in the PV cells. They force the electrons to move, generating an electric current.
  3. Wires capture and guide this direct current (DC) electricity into an inverter, which converts it into alternating current (AC) electricity. The conversion from direct to alternating current makes solar energy usable.
  4. The AC electricity flows through the home's electrical panel for distribution throughout the house.

How Does Solar Energy Power Your Home?

Now that you know the basics of how solar panels produce electricity, the next question is what happens with that energy. Here's a step-by-step breakdown of where the power goes:

  1. PV cells within the solar panels absorb the sun's photons, which move electrons to produce a current of electricity.
  2. An inverter then converts the DC electricity into AC electricity, which is the type most home appliances require.
  3. This AC electricity flows through your house, powering devices, lights and appliances and possibly heating your water.
  4. Any excess electricity the solar panels generate either feeds into the electric grid or a solar fuel cell, which is like a battery for solar energy.

In short, the PV technology within solar panels captures sunlight's energy and makes it a usable electric current. This electric current disperses to all the things that use electricity in your home.

Types of Solar Power Panels

Although all PV solar panels work in the same basic way, you'll find different types of solar panels with diverse characteristics. In general, there are three major types of solar panels — monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. They vary in appearance, construction, performance, cost and installation. For these reasons, the type of panel you choose is significant.

  • Monocrystalline: Monocrystalline panels contain a single crystal of silicon. You can identify a monocrystalline solar panel by its black cells. These panels are the most challenging to create and the most efficient, leading to higher initial price points.
  • Polycrystalline: Polycrystalline panels contain multiple crystals of silicon. They are simpler to make and therefore more affordable, but they offer decreased efficiency. They are blue in color rather than black.
  • Thin-film: The least expensive option is thin-film. As the name suggests, thin-film solar panels are much less thick than their silicon counterparts. They're also less efficient and take up more space, so they're better suited to large-scale commercial applications than homes.

Why Should You Invest in Solar?

Solar panels use the sun's rays to generate electricity you can use to power your home. The process is clean, safe and environmentally friendly. You might have several different reasons for wanting to produce your own energy with solar technology. Here are a few reasons to invest in solar:

  • Grid independence: Having solar panels can offer you independence from the energy grid. This is especially useful if you live where the grid is inaccessible or unreliable. In addition, a solar system with a backup generator means you'll still have energy during a grid shutdown.
  • Reduced energy expenses: Many homeowners find their energy expenses significantly reduced after investing in solar panels. You can take advantage of net metering policies to drive your monthly costs down.
  • Increased home value: Another financial benefit is that investing in solar panels can increase your home value. Homes tend to command a premium and sell faster when they come with solar panels.
  • Decreased carbon footprint: Solar is a clean and renewable source of energy, unlike fossil fuels. When you use solar panels to produce your home's electricity, you decrease your carbon footprint, which protects the environment and improves public safety and well-being.

Learn More About Solar Energy for Your Home

It's helpful to understand how solar panels work to provide clean, renewable energy to homes and businesses. Most solar panels use PV technology, which captures the photons in sunlight to create an electric current. The system then converts the current of the electricity so you can use it to power your appliances. Different types of PV solar panels vary in materials, cost and effectiveness.

If you'd like to learn more about how solar technology works, reach out to us at S&H Solar. We're your one-stop shop for all of your solar needs. We'll be happy to help you understand what you can do with solar and determine whether or not solar makes sense for your home. For more information, contact us at S&H Solar today.

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