Solar power can seem like the newest thing in renewable energy because it is always improving. This power source finds its origins with French scientist Edmond Becquerel, who first discovered the photoelectric effect – the way certain materials give off an electrical spark when sunlight hits them – in the early 1800s. By the 1950s, other scientists were developing solar cells from silicon.
Today, solar technology has become a common and reliable source of power. But how do solar panels work, exactly? Understanding this innovative technology will explain how your solar panel array keeps your household running efficiently and cleanly.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels are made of photovoltaic (PV) cells that collect energy from the sun. These cells are made of silicon crystals that are blended with impurities like boron to make them better conductors of electrical current. This type of energy produces no harmful emissions the way fossil fuels like coal or petroleum do.
Two Types of PV Cells:
Individual PV cells produce only a few watts of electricity, so they’re grouped together in modules or panels to generate more power. Typically, there are two types of solar panels available: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline solar panels are thin, flexible and incredibly efficient. They also tend to be on the expensive side, as the manufacturing process is more intense. Polycrystalline solar panels are more rigid, often encased in aluminum frames for mounting on roof or ground racks. The process for producing them is less expensive, which translates to lower consumer cost, though they may not be as efficient as monocrystalline panels.
Converting Sunlight into Electricity
When sunlight enters the cells, positive and negative electrons start moving around and knocking into each other inside the cell. Thin wires create a pathway for those electrons to exit the cell, resulting in a flow of electricity just waiting to be used.
How Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
It’s easy to see how solar panels work on a bright, sunny day. But how do solar panels work at night or when the sun is hidden behind clouds? The answer lies in where that electric circuit leads to when it exits the panel. The energy leaving your solar panels is Direct Current (DC), like that from the batteries in a flashlight.
A power inverter converts the DC into Alternating Current (AC) that is suitable for household appliances. Power converters, on the other hand, keep the type of current the same while changing the voltage output to accommodate sensitive electronics like laptops or commercial applications like medical equipment. Connecting solar panels to a high-capacity battery means you’re storing any unused solar energy for later use. Some all-inclusive kits for home solar power include inverter/chargers that automatically toggle between charging the battery when grid power is available and accessing that stored power at night or when the grid goes down.
How Do Solar Panels Work for Your Home’s Utility Bills?
Besides providing a reliable source of emergency power during an outage, a home solar system can make an impact on your monthly utility bills. But how do solar panels work on a house’s electricity bills? When you connect your solar panels to your electrical utility meter, you can get credits for sending energy to the grid during sunny days when your system’s production exceeds your household needs.
This is known as “net metering,” and it’s essentially a way to store any unused power from your solar panels. This allows your system to draw energy from the grid when you need it – like at night or during inclement weather.