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How Solar Energy Works

Jessica PirroApril 23, 20193600

Solar energy is a growing industry. It’s an industry that a lot of people are interested in but don’t really understand how it works. How does solar energy work? To simplify it, it captures the sun’s energy and turns it into electricity.  

Because our sun is a natural nuclear reactor, it releases these tiny packets of energy called photons. These photons travel 93 million miles from the sun to the Earth in around 8-9 minuets. In an hour enough photons travel to earth to, in theory, generate enough solar energy to sustain our global needs for energy in an entire year.

Only five-tenths of a percent of the energy consumed in the United States is accounted for by photovoltaic power. However, since the cost of solar is dropping and the technology is vastly improving, the ability we have to harness the energy the sun is releasing is on the rise.

In 2017 the International Energy Agency did a report that showed that solar has become the world’s fastest-growing source of power.

But there is more to the way solar energy works than just the sun.

How do Solar Panels Work?

The way that solar panels work to produce energy is unique. When a photon hits a solar cell, they shake the electrons loose from their atoms. Then if the conductors are attached to both the positive and negative side of a a cell, it then forms an electrical circuit. The electron then flows through the circuit and begins to generate electricity.

A solar panel is made up of multiple cells, and multiple panels that are wired together form a solar array. When it comes to the way solar energy works in relation to solar panels is, the more panels that you are able to use, the more energy you are able to generate.  

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are made up of solar cells. These solar cells are made up of silicon such as semiconductors. They are then constructed with both positive and negative layers and together they create an electrical field.

The way that PV solar panels work to generate is energy is through direct current (DC) electricity. The DC electricity allows electrons to flow in one direction around a circuit. The electrons flow from the negative side, through the object they are powering, back to positive side.

The alternating current (AC) electricity pushes and pulls electrons, periodically reversing the direction that the electrons are flowing. In order for solar panels to work, the DC power has to be inverted to AC power.

AC electricity was chosen for the United States power grid’s because it wasn’t as expensive to transmit over long periods of time. The way solar panels work in relation to AC and DC electricity is they create DC electricity and use an inverter to get DC electricity into an AC grid.

How do Inverters Work?

An inverter is another key piece for how solar power works. An inverter for solar systems takes the DC electricity that is generated from the solar array and then uses that power to create AC electricity.

Not only does the inverter invert DC to AC power. It also is what provides ground fault protection and system stats. That includes the voltage and current on AC and DC circuits, the energy production and the maximum power point tracking.

There are also different types of inverters. There’s central inverters and micro-inverters.

Central inverters is the inverter that has really dominated the solar industry since it started. But they have their own downfalls, such as when a central inverter is being used and one solar panel is having issues it can cause all of the other panels on the array to have poor performances.

Central inverters convert all of the DC power that is collected from an array of solr modules and turn it into AC power for the grid, helping create solar power.

Micro-inverters are one of the biggest shifts in the solar panel technology industry. The way the inverter works is it optimizes each individual panel as opposed to the whole solar system like central inverters do. By doing this the panel is able to perform at it’s maximum production.

How Does Net Metering Work?

Net metering is another factor to how solar energy works. How net metering works is, when a solar system hits its peak electricity production in the afternoon most people aren’t home to use the electricity it is producing. But people are usually home, using electricity at night time, when the solar panels energy production is at a low.

Net metering helps you get the most of the solar system by accounting for the ups and downs in electricity production. Net metering sends the excess electricity to the electrical utility grid when your system is producing excess electricity.

When your system isn’t producing enough electricity, you can pull electricity from your utility, just like you did before you went solar. With net metering, when your solar system produces more electricity than you need, the excess electricity produced can be used to cover the times when production is low.

How Does It All Work Together?

Once everything is installed it all works together to create solar energy. When the sunlight hits a solar panel, the panel then converts the energy to DC current, the current flows down to the inverter. The inverter then converts the electricity from DC to AC, which is then used to power what ever you need to be powered. Lastly when your solar system produces more energy than you are using, the net metering sends the extra energy to the utility grid. This way when you are home and if you’re using more energy than is being produced you can pull energy from the utility grid.

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