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.