Solar energy is the process by which the sun’s energy is absorbed and transformed into usable electrical power.
This is possible because the sun is a naturally occurring nuclear reactor. Every 8.5 minutes, the sun releases photons which have to travel for 93 million miles in order to reach Earth. Theoretically speaking, the sheer number of photons that reach the Earth each hour have enough solar energy to power the planet for a whole year.
The U.S. currently consumes about five-tenths of 1% of photovoltaic power. However, thanks to the ongoing improvement of solar technology and the fact that it’s becoming more affordable to install solar panels, it seems like solar energy has a bright future ahead.
In fact, some studies suggest that solar energy is the fastest-growing energy resource in the world right now. This means that for the first time in history, the demand for solar energy is growing at a faster rate than that of other fuel sources. It’s also an indicator that solar energy will be much more pervasive in the coming years.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
The impact caused by photons when they come into contact with a solar cell causes the electrons within that cell to detach from their atoms. Now, if the positive and negative sides of the cells are attached to conductors, an electrical circuit can be created from this process. This circuit makes it possible for electrons to generate electricity that can be used to power a number of appliances.
Solar panels are made up of multiple cells, and when you combine multiple panels you get a solar array. Obviously, when you combine more solar panels together, you can generate a lot more power.
What Are They Made Of?
Numerous solar cells are required in order to create photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Similar to semiconductors, solar cells are created out of silicon. What’s more, they’re fashioned from a combination of positive and negative layers, which when combined are able to generate an electric field.
How is Electricity Generated?
PV solar panels are only able to produce direct current or DC electricity. DC electricity is when electrons travel in a single direction. For example, let’s say you’ve got a battery-powered light bulb. Here, the batteries travel from the negative to the positive side of the battery.
On the other hand, you have alternating current or AC electricity, which works by pushing and pulling electrons in a similar manner to a car engine cylinder. Also, when you rotate a coil of wire next to a magnet, AC power is produced, and this is how generators work. Now, it’s possible to “power” this generator through multiple types of power sources, such as solar, wind, coal, nuclear, diesel fuel, gas, and hydroelectricity.
The only reason why the U.S. electrical power grid runs on AC electricity is because it can be conducted over long distances with very little cost. Now keep in mind that solar panels generate DC electricity. So how does that DC electricity turn into AC grid power? Well, this is where the inverter comes in.
What Does a Solar Inverter Do?
What a solar inverter does is that it takes electricity from the solar panels in DC form and then uses it to generate AC electricity. In that sense, inverters work like the brain center of the whole solar energy creation process. In addition to converting DC into AC power, they’re also capable of providing ground fault protection, maximum power point tracking, and information on energy production, voltage as well as current on AC and DC circuits.
Central inverters have been used ever since solar energy was introduced to the market. Later on came micro-inverters, which literally changed the game for the PV industry. You see, micro inverters focus on enhancing the efficiency of each individual solar panel instead of the entire array, which is what a central inverter does. As a result, micro inverters enable each solar panel to perform at its ultimate best.
Since central inverters focus on the performance of the entire solar array, an issue that affects one solar panel will have an effect on all the other panels on the array. On the other hand, a home solar system that uses micro-inverters is free from such challenges. This means that even if one of the solar panels has a problem, the others won’t suffer as a result and the system will work fine.
How Does a Solar Panel System Work?
A home solar energy system works in the following way:
- The solar panels receive light from the sun.
- The panels convert the sun’s energy into a DC current.
- The DC current runs through an inverter.
- The inverter converts the current from DC to AC energy that’s actually usable.
In the end, you get clean, green, affordable and efficient energy to power your home.
Now you must be wondering; ‘What if I’m not using all of the energy that’s generated by my solar panels?’ or ‘What happens to my energy supply at night when the solar system is no longer creating power?’ Well, the good news is that your power needs will always be met due to a system that’s known as “net metering.”
During daylight hours, most grid-connected PV systems will generate more energy than you need for your entire household, which is why the excess energy that’s left is sent to an energy grid to be used in a different place. As a customer that’s part of the grid, you’ll get compensated in the form of credit for the extra energy that you provide to the grid. That credit can be used on days when there’s heavy cover or at night when your solar system is not generating as much electricity to meet your needs. The net meter’s job is to keep track of the energy exchange as you send and receive electricity from the grid.
Going Off the Grid with Solar Energy
Sure, we all enjoy the convenience of being able to switch on an appliance at will and have everything running without a second thought. But over time, having that kind of dependency on a utility company comes at a cost to the environment and to our pockets. The good news is that you can fulfill all of your home’s energy needs without depending on the utility company. This is known as going “off-grid”, and although the initial setup costs of this system are quite high, it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
Thanks to the fast advancements in solar technology, the price of solar batteries and panels is decreasing, although marginally. It will still set you back a few thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to get a complete solar panel system for your home, but the amount will depend on your needs and again, it will work out to be cheaper than many of the alternatives available today.
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