If you’ve been considering solar for any amount of time, then you might find yourself wondering, how does solar energy work? At Sun Badger Solar, we love breaking down and explaining how solar energy works.
This ultimate guide to solar energy explains how solar energy and solar panels can help turn the lights on in your home. Whether you’ve used solar panels on your home or business in the past, or you’re completely new to solar, you’ll find that there’s something you can learn here.
Let’s dive into what a solar energy system could do to help you reach your energy savings and energy efficiency goals.
How a Solar Panel Works
Solar panels are pretty simple, really! Essentially what happens is that solar panels record the sun’s energy and then work to convert that energy into power for your home. After sunlight hits solar panels, it’s captured within photovoltaic cells and transported to an inverter where it’s converted from direct current DC electricity to usable AC electricity. From there, the electricity is ready to be used by you and your home or is sent out to the grid to be used by your neighbors. In some other cases, the power might be stored in battery banks such as the Tesla Powerwall.
Whether you choose to use a battery bank or not is completely up to you and often is determined by what you can afford. At Sun Badger, we encourage every customer that’s installing solar panels to consider also installing a solar battery bank. While the battery bank won’t allow you to completely separate yourself from the grid, it will limit your dependency on the grid.
Check out this video for more info on how solar panels work:
Components of a Solar Panel
The components of a solar panel aren’t as complex as you might think. Some of the first solar panels were developed in the late 1800’s. The most important solar panels component is the photovoltaic cells that capture sunlight and transfer the energy to the inverters that change the DC electricity to AC electricity. Each photovoltaic cell is contained within a larger silicon cell encased in glass and metal to protect it from weather and water damage.
The glass that covers the silicon PV (photovoltaic) cells is covered in an anti-reflective coating to help the panels collect the most sunlight possible and, in turn, generate an optimal amount of electricity. A solar inverter is the portion of the solar energy system that acts as the system’s power plant and converts the energy to alternating current (AC).
Returning Power to the Grid
After your solar energy system generates power, it has to go somewhere. Electricity isn’t like water or gas because it’s not able to live in the lines forever. Instead, it needs to either be used or moved to a new place. This is just one of the reasons we encourage homeowners to use a battery bank. Battery banks are the only way to store your solar power until you’re ready to use it.
But, on the chance that you’re not ready or able to get a battery bank installed in your home, you might be in luck! Many power companies offer a service referred to as net metering. Net metering is a way for solar energy systems to create electricity and then give what’s not used to the power company. Power companies can then offer you a credit to your electric bill for the power you’re providing to the grid. This is a great way to help maximize your investment in solar panels.
Tips for Shopping Solar
There are plenty of tips to consider if you’re looking to shop solar. Here are some of the tips that we consider to be the most helpful. First off, try to find those incentives!
If you feel like investing in solar might be too much of a stretch for you and your household, then you should be sure to look into the incentives that are offered through many power companies and the government. Yes, we said the government! In fact, a number of tax incentives include state and federal tax breaks for individuals and companies that choose to invest in solar for their home or business. Contact your local Sun Badger Solar representative to learn more about some of the different incentives that might be offered in your state.
Incentives from power companies can include discounts on your bill, net metering, or a one-time rebate on past bills. The best way to find out about what incentives your local power company offers is to check their website or give them a call. Most companies are very willing to talk about incentives when you reach out to them.
Choose the Right Solar Partner
The company that sells and installs your solar system isn’t just your solar installer; they’re your solar partner for years to come. When looking for a solar partner, find a local company with a reputation for quality work and service. You’ll want to be able to contact and work with your solar partner in case anything goes wrong in the future.
Compare Solar Panels
Different solar panels offer different advantages. Some might be more affordable today but don’t last quite as long, while others may be more expensive but, in turn, will last for years to come. At Sun Badger Solar, we only install the best solar panels that will continue to produce electricity for 25+ years at over 84% efficiency. That means more bang for your buck!
How Do We Get Energy From the Sun?
Solar energy isn’t quite as difficult to explain or understand as you might expect. It’s actually quite simple. All solar energy starts with the sun. After all, it’s not really solar energy if it doesn’t use the biggest star in our galaxy to create electric power. Here’s how solar panels capture the sun’s energy and then turn it into usable electricity with the help of inverters.
Solar panels that you see on people’s homes throughout the world and in fields (called solar farms) have truly begun to change how we think about energy and electricity. Whether you aspire to own your own solar farm or you’d just like to power your house with the sun’s energy, you’ll find that solar panels offer many benefits. Here’s how they work:
Solar panels are made up of hundreds of thousands of small photovoltaic cells that can capture the sun’s energy. When they do capture it, that energy is converted to DC current by the solar panel, and the DC current is then pushed through the power lines to inverters.
When the DC Current reaches the inverter, it is converted or inverted to AC current. AC is the correct current used throughout the U.S. and is what you need to turn on your TV or run the air conditioner on a hot day.
Inverters are often mounted as close to the panels as possible and hopefully not far from the main fuse box for your home. That way, the lines with live current won’t have as far to travel. Inverters do make a little bit of noise when they’re producing electricity, so be sure to talk with your solar installer about that before determining the best place to put them.
Your Fuse Box
The main fuse box for your home might be located in your garage, basement, or another place. Nonetheless, that’s the place where AC current will be headed next so that you can start using it throughout your home. The fuse box works as a type of junction that allows the electricity to move throughout your home evenly.
At this point, any electricity that isn’t used will be returned to the grid.
Net Metering (Returned to the Grid)
Returning generated electricity to the grid is called net metering. When purchasing your solar energy system, you’ll choose between a few different options for the amount of electricity that your solar panels will generate. For example, you can purchase enough solar to power your entire house in its peak times of energy draw, or you can choose to purchase just enough to begin offsetting your energy cost. Either way, you’ll be saving money. Any extra electricity generated but not used by your home has to go somewhere.
From your fuse box, unused electricity will make its way back to the street and on its to other people’s homes and businesses. The advantage of this is that many energy companies will offer you money back on your electric bill to supply electricity to your neighbors. This makes the solar panels on your home even more valuable!
Your solar partner can help you decide whether producing enough electricity to use net metering or going with slightly less production of electricity to ensure that you save some money on the cost of installation. Either way, trust your solar partner to help you decide what will be best for your solar energy system.
Battery Bank System
In the case that you’d like to be the most efficient, a battery bank system is the way to go. It will allow you to store any of your unused electricity so that you can continue using your solar energy even after the sun goes down.
If you choose to install a battery bank system, net metering won’t occur quite as frequently because the energy will first need to fill all of your batteries fully. These systems are slightly more expensive but make your home much more efficient, provide protection from power outages, and offer excellent return on investment. For more info on solar battery banks, check out this post.
The History of How Solar Panels Generate Energy
We’ve gone over it simply, but you might still be wondering how it really works. How do solar panels generate energy in the form of DC current? How is the sun powerful enough to power our entire planet for 500,000 years with just a small bit of light? And how do solar engineers plan on harnessing that energy for the good of mankind? Let’s take a deeper look.
Understanding the Sun
Compared to many of the other stars throughout our galaxy and the rest of space, the sun isn’t anything too remarkable. While it’s incredible and life-giving to us, there are other stars that are much larger and that burn much brighter. Our solar system just happens to have the sun close enough to completely change the atmosphere of our planet.
But how has mankind gone from sunbathing, starting fires, and drying items in the sun, to now harnessing enough electricity to power homes and charge cars?
How Solar Started
Solar truly started when humans realized they could use the sun and a piece of glass to start fires. That alone was one of the first ways that solar energy was harnessed. In architecture from the 1200s we see native people and even the Romans using south-facing buildings to absorb the sun’s light and warmth.
in the late 1700s and early 1800s, scientists first started experimenting with other ways to use the sun’s energy. They created ovens on ships that could be headed with the sun and they created solar-powered steamboats. It’s clear that even far before the age of solar panels, man has been taking advantage of solar energy.
The Age of Solar Panels
It’s argued throughout the scientific community as to when the first photovoltaic cells were created. But scientists give credit for the invention to a French scientist Edmond Becquerel. He determined that light could increase electricity generation when two metal electrodes were placed into a conducting solution. This breakthrough was deemed the “photovoltaic effect.”
There were several other great minds involved in the process throughout the 1800s who worked with different products to find the best way to produce electricity. But it wasn’t until 1954 that Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson’s created the silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell at Bell Labs. This event was significant because it was the first time that a solar cell could power an electric device for several hours a day. The first-ever cell could convert energy at just 4% efficiency. That’s a huge difference from the almost 50% efficiency that’s been obtained today.
As you can see, solar panels have come a long long way from where they first started. Not only are they much more complex and efficient but scientists today are still working towards making these systems more and more efficient so that you can save more money and pay less to get them installed.
What Is A Solar Battery? + Off-Grid Solar vs. On-Grid Solar
We’ve talked from time to time about solar battery banks and the advantages that they bring. But how do they work, and when are they utilized? As solar experts, we do our best to advise on the best practice for your solar energy system, but at the end of the day, whether or not you choose to install a solar battery bank is up to you. There is one case in which you’ll want to be sure to get a solar battery bank, and that’s with off-grid solar systems.
What Is Off-Grid Solar?
Before we get too far into batteries, it’s important to understand the differences between off-grid and on-grid solar. There aren’t many cases in which homeowners would choose off-grid. Off-grid is simple in that your home is literally off the grid. You won’t be able to pull any electricity from the power grid and instead will get all of it from your solar panels.
What happens when there is no sun, you ask? Well, that’s where solar battery banks come into play. With a solar battery bank, you’ll be able to store the energy that your panels generate throughout the day and use it at night. Additionally, you won’t rely on the power grid, so you won’t have to pay an electricity bill. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, in many cases, this simply isn’t achievable for many homeowners. But you can, of course, get close.
Solar Batteries for Off-Grid
A home wouldn’t be able to be off-grid without a solar battery, but you also wouldn’t be able to use your solar energy at night if you don’t install a solar battery bank. So, while most homes aren’t able to go completely off-grid because of restrictions from city zoning laws, they can essentially be off-grid by relying almost entirely on the solar energy created by their solar panels and not the power company.
But, if your home is out in the middle of the desert or in the mountains, then solar batteries will allow you to take your home completely off-grid. It is, however, important that homeowners in this situation limit their use of electricity. If you drain the battery too far down, you could run out of power until the sun comes back out again.
What Is On-Grid Solar?
On-grid solar is simple, really, and it’s what most consumers think of when they think of solar energy. With on-grid solar, your home produces solar energy, not as the sole power source for your home but instead as a supplement to it. On-grid solar is a great option if you’re looking to help lower your electricity bill and you’re not trying to fully supplement your home’s energy use. In no way is a battery bank system better than a system that doesn’t have one. A battery bank will allow you to save more money in the long run, but it will also cost you more upfront. Whether you choose to use a battery bank or not is entirely up to you as the homeowner.
Advantages of a Solar Battery Bank
If you do choose to install a battery bank on your home, here are some of the advantages that you’ll be able to experience.
- On-demand power whenever you need it.
- Security during power outages.
- Cleaner energy is better for the environment.
- A quiet solution to power outages. No need for noisy generators and their gas fuel consumption (the sun is the fuel source!)
- Lower electric bills because you won’t be using traditional power almost at all.
There are more advantages than that, but these are the most important advantages we’ve found over the years. If you’re sold on the idea of a solar battery bank, contact us today, and we can estimate your cost for a solar battery bank.
Where Does The Energy Go (Battery or Grid)
When you have a solar battery installed as part of the solar energy system for your house, you may wonder where the electricity goes when your solar panels produce it. Does it go to the battery, the grid, or to your home? We understand that it can definitely be confusing, so let’s break it down a bit.
Where Does the Energy Go First
Before we get too far into this, it’s important that we refer back to some of the information that we covered above. When sunlight first hits your solar panels, it’s captured as DC electric current. This current then flows through the wiring to specialized inverters located near your home’s electrical panel. The inverters transform the electrical current from its DC form into AC current so that it can be used, stored, or sent off to the grid.
After it’s transformed from DC to AC, the next place that it goes depends entirely on how you have your solar energy system installed. If you have a battery bank installed on your home, the current will travel in a different path than if you don’t have one installed.
The Path of Current Without a Battery Bank
Without a battery bank, the AC current will flow to your home’s electrical panel and then to the rest of your home as you need it. Any extra electricity will be sent to the grid where it can be used by your neighbors. The biggest advantage to the electricity being sent back to the grid is net metering. We talked about it above, but net metering is when your electric company meters the amount of electricity that you give back to the grid and deducts it from your electric bill. In the best-case scenario, you’ll receive a slight refund for the electricity you provide to the grid in surplus.
The Path of Current With a Battery Bank
Not every electric company will provide fair net metering practices, and in some cases, it’s not worth it to a homeowner when they send electricity back to the grid. In this scenario, the best thing a homeowner can do to ensure that they save the maximum amount of money is to install a battery bank.
When a battery bank is installed as part of your home, the AC current will flow to your electric panel on your home and then will do one of three things. If your home is calling for electricity (it will likely always need some electricity), some of the current will flow to power that. Any surplus of electricity that your home doesn’t need will first go to the battery in order to ensure it’s fully charged. How charged your battery is will be determined by how much electricity your home uses after the sun goes down. When your battery bank is fully charged, any excess electricity will go back to the grid for net metering.
With a battery bank system installed as part of your solar energy system, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re saving the maximum amount of money and getting the most bang for your buck.
How Much Electricity Can Be Stored in a Battery Bank?
A common question that homeowners will ask is how much electricity they can plan on being able to store in their battery banks. This will almost always depend on how many batteries or how large of a solar system you’ll choose to have on your home. If you install a bunch of batteries without enough solar panels to power your home and fill the batteries, then it won’t be worth it to purchase the batteries in the first place.
One of the best batteries on the market today is the Enphase systems. Sun Badger is a certified Enphase installer, and we tell our customers that they can expect to store up to 10 kilowatt-hours in the Encharge 10. Because there are different ways to monitor the battery health, use of power, and more, that battery power will likely be able to power your home for a day or more. If you feel like you want even more battery power storage, you can install a second or third battery pack to double or triple your home battery capacity.
If you’d like to learn more about installing an Enphase battery system or a solar energy system and battery pack to your home, contact us today. Our solar experts are knowledgeable and ready to answer any questions that you might have about your future solar energy system.
How Solar Panels Save You Money
If you haven’t heard by now, solar panels can save you some serious money. When it comes to owning a home or business, electricity can be one of your highest monthly expenses. And not just that, but electricity is also an expense that increases every few months depending on the season and usage. The amount that it increases can vary depending on where you live, as well. If you live in a more highly-populated area, your electricity bill is likely going to increase every year.
Electricity works like almost every other product on the free market: with increased demand, the cost rises to pay for the production and expansion of the production of more electricity. The only way to not spend more and more on your electricity is to switch to solar panels for your home or business. With solar, the price you pay for electricity only rises on the electricity that you need outside of what is produced freely by your panels. Of course, you do have to pay for your solar panels initially, but after you’ve paid for the official investment, you don’t have to pay for the panels to continue to produce electricity.
Another way that solar panels can save you money is the tax credits and tax breaks that are offered for both businesses and homeowners. These tax breaks will help you pay for your solar panels faster and ensure that you’re paying less for the panels. In many cases, homeowners can also get credit from their state and local government as well as municipal companies. We also mentioned above that solar panels can produce more electricity than what is used for the home. In many cases, that electricity can be sold to your electric company. In turn, you’ll be paid a premium or given a credit on your bill for the excess electricity that is returned to the grid.
How To Switch To Solar Energy
If you like the benefits that solar panels offer, want to give back to the planet by lowering your carbon footprint, and save money on electricity, you can switch to solar in no time. The process of switching from conventional electricity to solar panels for your home is quite simple. The easiest way to go about it is to find a solar provider that you want to partner with.
How to Find a Solar Partner for Installation
When you start looking for solar installers to help with your home solar installation, you’ll likely have a lot of questions. Before diving in and working with just any old solar installer, take your time to thoroughly vet each company that you might work with. You’ll want to find a company that has your best interest in mind, and that’s willing to work with you. Here are a few filters to put them through and questions to ask.
- How long have they been in business? Look for five years as a good threshold.
- Do they have a clean and easy-to-use website? A professional company will put time into its online presence.
- Do they offer a warranty? Not all companies will offer workmanship warranties. A good warranty is vital.
- Do they offer professional customer service? How you’re treated in the sales process will likely be how you’re treated throughout the time you work with them.
- Will they be there for you in the future? Finding a company that’s willing to partner with you throughout the future and not just right now is a huge advantage.
Choosing Solar Panels for Your Home
There are many different options when it comes to what panels or solar energy systems you choose to install on your home. The first thing to note is that solar installers only offer specific amounts. In most cases, this means that your choices will be limited, making it even more important that you choose a reputable solar installer for your home.
When you choose solar panels for your home, what you should look for most is the efficiency rate and life expectancy. You want the panels to produce a high amount of electricity and also to continue producing a high amount of electricity for several years. In some cases, the panels’ production will decline rapidly as they age, making them less effective and valuable. At Sun Badger, we only install solar panels that are guaranteed to produce at 80% of their capacity after 20 years. That means your solar investment will last for years to come, and even after a longer period of time, you’ll still be getting electricity from the panels.
Prep Your Home for Installation
Lastly, you’ll need to ensure your home is ready for solar installation. Removing trees that might be in the way and making sure that your roof is in good shape are two of the most important parts of this process. A solar professional will tell you what work you might need to be done to ensure that your home is ready for the new solar panels to be installed.
When you’re ready to get solar installed on your home, we’d love to hear from you! Sun Badger Solar is currently installing solar panels in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida. Reach out to us for a free solar estimate and to learn more about the services that we offer to our solar customers.