How Does Solar Power Work?

Men installing solar panels on a roof

The sun has been “powering” life on this earth for eons, and the sun is the source for just about every kind of fuel we use today — whether it be as food in the tomatoes growing in your garden, for instance, or as the result of long decomposed plants and animals that form the basis for today’s crude oil. Modern solar power, of course, powers more than plants, and takes the free solar energy from the sun’s rays and directly converts it into electricity for immediate use in our everyday lives, but how does solar power work? How does sunlight gathered from solar panels turn into power to charge your phone, power your coffee maker, and make your TV turn on?

 

Components of a solar power energy system

How Solar Power Systems Work

 

Solar panels, made up on photovoltaic (PV) cells, are placed in optimum positions (usually on a roof) to gather as much sunlight as possible. This sunlight is converted into direct currency (DC) as long as the sun is shining.

 

Solar power also works by using an inverter, which takes the DC energy and converts it into alternating current (AC). The inverter, which looks like a thin metal box, is usually placed on an exterior wall or inside a garage wall.

 

The AC electricity travels from your inverter to an electrical panel or breaker box in your home, where it is then used as needed. Excess energy may also be stored in a battery or sold back to the grid. 

 

A net energy meter will measure the amount of energy you are consuming from solar power. Solar power that your panels are producing but you are not using is sent back into the grid.

 

The seed for photovoltaic (PV) technology was planted in 1839 when Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel, at age 19, discovered what we now know as the photovoltaic effect — which is that some materials produce electric current when exposed to light. After many years of experimentation by scientists around the world, a group of scientists working for Bell Labs started using silicon photovoltaic cells in 1954, achieving an energy efficiency rate of 4 percent — one that made its use practical.

 

Today’s residential panels have an average efficiency of around 15 to 20 percent, and advances in technology may soon push that number even higher.

 

How do you know if going solar is right for you?  Understand the pros of going solar in our blog post, Is Solar Energy Right for You?

 

Related:

What Can You Save With Solar?

With no end in sight for soaring electricity rates, your switch to solar will secure affordable power for your home & family for years to come.