Developments in the field of renewable energy have made the setup and use of solar panels easier and cheaper than ever before. More and more people are using solar energy to power their homes, but many still don’t know how it all works. With such a rise in popularity for solar panels, it is important for those moving to solar to understand how this technology is used as a practical source of electricity.
From the rays of sunlight hitting the panels to the electricity flowing into your toaster and television, this article gives a step by step guide to how exactly solar energy works, and how practical it can be to use it.
Solar panels work by using radiation from the sun to create energy, and then turning this energy into the alternating current which we use to power our electrical appliances. The initial process through which the energy from the sun turns into electricity is known as the photovoltaic effect. To understand how this works, a little more detail is needed in order to explain both what the photovoltaic effect is, and how solar panels make it happen.
Solar Panels and How They Work
What is the Photovoltaic Effect?
The photovoltaic effect is the process through which solar energy transforms into an electric current. It was first discovered by a French physicist called Edmond Becquerel in the 19th century.
Becquerel found that the energy from sunlight can produce an electrical voltage after coming into contact with certain materials. These materials are referred to as semiconductors. One of these semiconductors is silicon, which is used in solar panels. Semiconductors are made up of cells that absorb the energy from rays of sunlight.
By absorbing this energy, the electrons in the cells become free to move around, which produces an electrical current. As long as the sunlight continues to be in contact with the material, it can continue to produce electricity.
The science behind the photovoltaic effect can be complicated, and there is no need to learn how it all works before using solar energy, but understanding how it applies to the production of electricity in your home can be helpful. This happens because the electricity produced by the light coming into contact with silicon cells can be captured by the wiring in the solar panels.
This way, the electrical current can be fed into an inverter, which can use it to create the alternating current used to power the appliances in a home. Therefore, the photovoltaic effect is the stage in the process where sunlight turns into electricity. After this, the rest of the solar panel system keeps working to make it possible to use that electricity to power your stuff.
Step by Step Guide
To put it more simply, the photovoltaic effect is the way in which the materials used in solar panels produce electricity. This whole process can be seen as a series of steps, which take the rays from the sun and turn them into the alternating current, which can be used to power the appliances in your home. The following guide shows how the electrical current takes on this journey:
- Firstly, rays of light from the sun hit the silicon solar panels
- The energy from the sunlight makes the electrons in the silicon move, creating a flow of electrical current
- This direct current cannot be used to power most household appliances, so it flows through wires into an inverter
- The inverter changes the direct current, or DC, into alternating current, or AC, for use in your home.
What’s in a Solar Panel?
As we have already established, the solar panels which are used to provide electricity to homes across the country contain silicon cells, and energy is absorbed into these cells. However, there are other features of solar panels which also play an important part in powering a home. Each solar panel uses a layer of insulation to stop the temperature from rising too high. A higher temperature means that some of the energy from the sunlight is lost as heat, which makes the solar panel less efficient.
This layer of insulation is underneath a strong glass casing which is used to prevent damage to the silicon cells, which are vital to the entire solar energy process. This durable casing protects the cells while also helping to absorb radiation from the sun.
An anti-reflective coating makes sure that radiation is absorbed through the glass into the cells, rather than allowing it to reflect. Reflection of the sunlight would result in energy being lost by the solar panels. All of these features are important for maximizing the amount of energy in which the silicon cells can transform into electrical current.
However, there are also different ways that these silicon cells can be put together in order to maximize their potential. For an additional cost, monocrystalline cells can be used to create a solar panel with a higher level of efficiency. These more costly solar panels are made up of a series of individual silicon cells that have lots of room for electrons to move around and generate electricity.
In comparison, cheaper panels are made up of larger fragments of silicon, in which the electrons have less freedom. The more that the electrons can move, the more energy can be turned into electricity. For this reason, it might be worth considering investing in some more expensive, monocrystalline solar panels.
For those looking to make the move to solar energy, an important piece of information is how it links to the grid. Using solar panels to fulfill your electrical needs may seem like a positive step, but you should understand how it works in parallel with the grid, which still powers most people’s houses today. If you are unable to produce enough energy through your solar panels, then you need to have access to the grid to maintain electricity in your home.
Fortunately, this is incredibly simple, and it even improves the productivity of your solar panels. Solar-powered homes across the US have access to something called net metering. This is a method of measuring and recording how much electricity is produced by solar panels.
In instances where your solar panels may be producing more power than you need, such as on a particularly sunny day when nobody is home, the surplus electricity can be fed back into the grid and used to power the rest of the local area.
As an incentive to encourage the use of solar panels, this electricity is often repaid in energy credits, which can be used to take electricity from the grid when you can’t produce enough through the panels alone. In this sense, the grid can act as a place to store your surplus energy, without any need to worry about missing out on the electricity you have produced.
That way, it is both financially viable and environmentally friendly to make the change to solar power. This credit system for solar energy works to ensure that both none is wasted, and nobody is left unable to power their home.
How to Get Started
Getting started with solar energy might be unnerving to some people, especially with so much new information to take in. If you are looking to buy a set of solar panels for your home, there are a few tips you should take into account while you shop around. Firstly, it’s important to speak to as many companies as possible. The solar panel industry is still relatively new, and the demand has increased a lot over recent years.
As a result of this, there is a range of companies that may not all offer the same prices and installation deals. Those who are more popular may not actually offer the best deal, so it is a good idea to get a quote from multiple solar companies in your area before making a decision.
This is because the larger, more well-known companies can charge a higher price and also provide a smaller solar package. Solar panels can come in a variety of different packages with different equipment, meaning that some of the most efficient panels may be too expensive to be worthwhile.
Therefore, a solar shopper should always evaluate the efficiency of solar equipment in comparison to the quoted price in order to figure out which deal will be the most suitable for powering their home. With a wide range of options out there, and solar energy becoming more popular each day, it’s worth taking the time to research which package will offer the best value.