Solar Basics: How Do Solar Panels Work
Solar energy works by capturing the suns energy and quietly and effectively turning it into electricity for your home or business.
Our sun is a natural nuclear reactor. It releases tiny packets of energy called photons, which travel the 149.6 million kilometres from the sun to Earth in about 8.5 minutes. Every hour, enough photons impact our planet to generate enough solar energy to theoretically satisfy global energy needs for an entire year.
Solar doesnt generate electricity all the time, but it does generate electricity when it is needed most. This includes during the daytime and during hot sunny periods when demand for electricity is at its highest.
Australia is one of the sunniest countries in the world and is the perfect place for the sun to be put to work, especially during these peak times.
How Does Solar Power Work Anyway
Today, solar power is everywhere from home roofs to Ikea superstores to the Nevada desert. And thank goodness. Its a win-win solution to the climate crisis that creates jobs, saves money, and helps cut the carbon pollution changing our planet.
Plus, when it comes to energy, solar might be the closest thing to free money out there and we havent even begun to touch its full potential.
Why? Well consider this fact from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory : More energy from the sun strikes the Earth in an hour than all of humanity uses in a year.
> > Get the facts on clean energy: Download our free fact sheet Climate 101: What Is Renewable Energy?< <
Youve seen the panels. And now you know about solars incredible potential. Which means you probably have some questions. So lets get to it.
A Short History Of Solar Panels
The development of solar energy goes back more than 100 years. In the early days, solar energy was used primarily for the production of steam which could then be used to drive machinery. But it wasnt until the discovery of the photovoltaic effect by Edmond Becquerel that would allow the conversion of sunlight to solar electric energy.
Becquerels discovery then led to the invention in 1893 by Charles Fritts of the first genuine solar cell which was formed by coating sheets of selenium with a thin layer of gold. And from this humble beginning would arise the device we know today as the solar panel.
Russel Ohl, an American inventor on the payroll of Bell Laboratories, patented the worlds first silicon solar cell in 1941. Ohls invention led to the production of the first solar panel in 1954 by the same company. Solar panels found their first mainstream use in space satellites. For most people, the first solar panel in their life was probably embedded in their new calculator circa the 1970s!
Today, solar panels and complete solar panel systems are used to power a wide variety of applications. Yes, solar panels in the form of solar cells are still being used in calculators. However, they are also being used to provide solar power to entire homes and commercial buildings, such as Googles headquarters in California.
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Converting Solar Energy Via Solar Panels
By installing solar energy systems made with solar photovoltaic cells, or PV cells, home and business owners can collect solar energy and convert it into electricity. Heres a breakdown of that process:
Usable sunlight hits a solar cell, which sets off the photovoltaic effect.Alejomiranda / Getty Images
Solar PV is one of the best methods we have today for generating power on a large scale with a renewable, clean resource like solar energy.
How Much Energy Can We Get From The Sun
Solar power is amazing. On average, every square meter of Earth’ssurface receives 163 watts of solar energy . In other words, you could stand a really powerful table lamp on every square meter ofEarth’s surface and light up the whole planet with the Sun’s energy! Or, to putit another way, if we covered just one percent of the Sahara desert with solarpanels, we could generate enough electricityto power the whole world. That’s the good thing about solar power:there’s an awful lot of itmuch more than we could ever use.
But there’s a downside too. The energy the Sun sends out arrives onEarth as a mixture of light and heat. Both of these are incrediblyimportantthe light makes plants grow, providing us with food, whilethe heat keeps us warm enough to survivebut we can’t use either theSun’s light or heat directly to run a television or a car. We have tofind some way of converting solar energy into other forms of energy wecan use more easily, such as electricity. And that’s exactly what solarcells do.
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Solar Energy: What Is It And How Does It Work
The sun does more for our planet than just provide light during the daytime each particle of sunlight that reaches Earth contains energy that fuels our planet. Solar energy is the ultimate source responsible for all of our weather systems and energy sources on Earth, and enough solar radiation hits the surface of the planet each hour to theoretically fill our global energy needs for nearly an entire year.
Where does all of this energy come from? Our sun, like any star in the galaxy, is like a massive nuclear reactor. Deep in the Suns core, nuclear fusion reactions produce massive amounts of energy that radiates outward from the Suns surface and into space in the form of light and heat.
Solar power can be harnessed and converted to usable energy using or solar thermal collectors. Although solar energy only accounts for a small amount of overall global energy use, the falling cost of installing solar panels means that more and more people in more places can take advantage of solar energy. Solar is a clean, renewable energy resource, and figures to play an important part in the global energy future.
How A Solar Tower Works
As the sun shines down on a solar tower’s field of heliostats, each of those computer-controlled mirrors tracks the sun’s position on two axes. The heliostats are set up so that over the course of a day, they efficiently focus that light towards a receiver at the top of the tower.
In their first iteration, solar towers used the sun’s focused rays to heat water, and the resulting steam powered a turbine to create electricity. Newer models now use a combination of liquid salts, including 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate. These salts have a higher heat capacity than water, so some of that heat energy can be stored before using it to boil the water, which drives the turbines.
These higher operating temperatures also allow for greater efficiency and mean that some power can be generated even on cloudy days. Combined with some kind of energy-storage device, this means solar towers can produce reliable energy 24 hours a day.
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How Does A Pv System Work
You are probably most familiar with PV, which is utilized in solar panels. When the sun shines on a solar panel, the energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electric charges that move in response to an internal electric field in the cell, which causes the flow of electricity.
How Do Solar Panels Work The Science Of Solar Explained
We all know that solar photovoltaic panels transform sunlight into useable electricity, but few people know the actual science behind the process. This week on the blog we are going to get into the nitty-gritty science behind solar. It can seem complicated, but it all boils down to the photovoltaic effect the ability of matter to emit electrons when bathed in light.
Before we get to the molecular level, lets take a high-level look at the basic flow of electric generation:
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Solar Power Saves You Money In The Long Run
Initially, setting up your solar power system can cost a pretty penny. Prices are going down on equipment and installation costs, however.
But in the long run, as you use solar energy, youll reduce your electricity bill significantly, if youre efficiently using your equipment. No more gas and electricity bills for the stove and fridge or A/C!
Is My Home Suitable For A Residential Solar Energy System
The best way to determine whether your home is a good fit for solar electricity is to contact a solar installer in your area. A solar energy specialist can come to take a look at your home and give you a custom recommendation.
Generally speaking, solar energy is best suited for those who live in sunny areas, have plenty of surface area on a south- or west-facing roof and whose homes are unobstructed by trees or neighboring buildings.
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Do Some States Get More Solar Energy Than Others
Obviously, some states get more sun than others. So the real question is: if weather can affect solar energy production, are some states better candidates for solar energy than others? The short answer is yes, but not necessarily because of weather.
Take clouds for example. Anyone who has been sunburned on a cloudy day knows that solar radiation penetrates through clouds. For that same reason, solar panels can still produce electricity on cloudy days. But depending on the cloud cover and the quality of the solar panels, the efficiency of the solar panels electricity production commonly drops from 10 to 25 percent or more compared to a sunny day.
In other words, solar power can still work well in typically cloudy, cold locations. New York, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Boston, Seattle – all of those cities experience inclement weather, from rain and fog to blizzards, yet they’re also cities where people see huge savings by getting solar.
No matter where you live, solar energy can be an excellent investment and an excellent way to help combat climate change. How much you’ll save – and how quickly you’ll see a return on your investment in a particular state – depends on many factors, like the cost of electricity, solar incentives available, net metering, and the quality of your solar panels.
How Much Solar Power Does The Uk Currently Generate
Somewhat surprisingly, the UK is the seventh largest producer of solar power worldwide after China, the USA, Japan, Germany, India and Italy. We generate more solar power than sunny Spain.
The current peak solar electricity generation record seen by our Electricity National Control Centre is 9680MW on 20 April 2020 enough to boil five million kettles!
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How Does A Solar Energy System Work At Night
Solar panels need sunlight to generate electricity, but we all know that the sun doesn’t shine at night. To service your electrical loads after dark, a grid-tied solar panel system – the most common type of solar system – relies on power imported from your utility company.
Thankfully, theres a good chance you wont have to pay for much, or any, of the electricity you import at night. This is the case if you live in a state with 1:1 net metering, which is currently 38 out of 50 states. Here, the surplus power your system exported during the day is used to cancel out the cost of your electricity imports at night.
This video explains how a grid-tied solar system works by exporting energy during the day and importing energy at night.
Learn more:What is net metering and how does it work?
Evaluate Your Sunlight Exposure
More sun means more energy produced and a greater potential to save with solar. Certain states, like Arizona and California, average more sunlight hours per day.
Your homes orientation toward the sun, the amount of shade, and its roof type also affect a solar systems output. You can estimate the efficiency of panels in your area by using the Solar Reviews calculator. Enter your address and the average cost of your monthly energy bill.
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History Of Solar Towers
The first solar tower was the National Solar Thermal Test operated by Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy. Constructed in 1979 as a response to the energy crisis, it still runs today as a test facility that’s open to scientists and universities to study.
“The National Solar Thermal Test Facility is the only test facility of this type in the United States. The NSTTF’s primary goal is to provide experimental engineering data for the design, construction, and operation of unique components and systems in proposed solar thermal electrical plants planned for large-scale power generation,” according to Sandia’s website.
The first commercial solar power tower was Solar One, which ran from 1982 to 1988 in the Mohave Desert. While it was able to store some energy into the evening , it wasn’t efficient, which is why it was modified to become Solar Two. This second iteration switched over from using oil as a heat-transfer material to molten salt, which is also able to store thermal energy and has the added benefits of being nontoxic and non-flammable.
In 2009, the Sierra Sun Tower was built in California’s Mojave Desert, and its 5 megawatt capacity reduced CO2 emissions by 7,000 tons per year when it was running. It was built as a model but was shut down in 2015 because it was deemed to costly to operate.
How Does Grid Connection Work With Solar Panels
Though electricity generation with solar panels may make sense to most people, theres still a lot of general confusion about how the grid factors into the home solar process. Any home that is connected to the electrical grid will have something called a utility meter that your utility company uses to measure and supply power to your home. When you install solar panels on your roof or on a ground mount on your property, they are eventually connected to your homes utility meter. The production of your solar systems renewable energy can actually be accessed and measured by this meter.
Most homeowners in the U.S. have access to net metering, a major solar incentive that significantly improves the economics of solar. If you have net metering, you can send power to the grid when your solar system is overproducing in exchange for credits on your electric bill. Then, during hours of low electricity production , you can use your credits to draw extra energy from the grid and meet your household electricity demand. In a sense, net metering offers a free storage solution to property owners who go solar, almost like a battery, making solar an all-in-one energy solution.
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What Happens On A Cloudy Day
Even a cloudy day is sufficient to generate some solar power, although a lot less than a sunny day.
It’s important to remember that in a solar panel array, shade blocks the flow of electricity through the panels. Even if shading is on just one of the panels, the output of the entire array will be reduced.
More advanced panels and inverters can lower the impact from shade, so ensure you discuss this with your solar retailer.
While you dont have any control over shade from clouds, you should position your panels in an area free of shadows from other things, such as trees and buildings.
If this is not possible, you may have the option of splitting your solar panels across parts of your roof which face different directions. For this kind of set-up, you will need an inverter that can accept multiple inputs for the best results. Your solar installer can advise on this.
Also, many modern solar panels come equipped with devices called bypass diodes. These devices reduce the effects of partial shading by enabling electricity to flow around the shaded area.
There are even panels that are designed to operate effectively in part shade. Ask your solar retailer more about this technology.
Where Can I Buy Solar Panels
Well, right here on this website, of course!
Our solar panel brands include the most respected manufacturers in the solar panel business. These brands include such names as BP Solar, General Electric, and Sharp, among others. We feature only the highest quality solar panels from manufacturers with a proven track record in solar panel technology. With over 30 years in the solar panel business, you can be sure that at MrSolar.com, we know solar panels!
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The Science Behind Solar Pv Cells
Solar PV panels are comprised of many small photovoltaic cells photovoltaic meaning they can convert sunlight into electricity. These cells are made of semi-conductive materials, most often silicon, a material that can conduct electricity while maintaining the electrical imbalance needed to create an electric field.
When sunlight hits the semiconductor in the solar PV cell the energy from the light, in the form of photons, is absorbed, knocking loose a number of electrons, which then drift freely in the cell. The solar cell is specifically designed with positively and negatively charged semiconductors sandwiched together to create an electric field . This electric field forces the drifting electrons to flow in a certain direction- towards the conductive metal plates that line the cell. This flow is known as an energy current, and the strength of the current determines how much electricity each cell can produce. Once the loose electrons hit metal plates, the current is then directed into wires, allowing the electrons to flow like they would in any other source of electric generation .
As the solar panel generates an electric current, the energy flows through a series of wires to an inverter . While solar panels generate direct current electricity, most electricity consumers need alternating current electricity to power their buildings. The inverters function is to turn the electricity from DC to AC, making it accessible for everyday use.