Knowing More on How Solar Power Works
It’s really pretty simple and easy to understand. We’ll break this down into bite-sized pieces. For those with a background in the trades or sciences, no worries. Everyone starts somewhere.
For those of you who don’t, no worries. To help you wrap your thoughts around “how solar power works” we have to begin with the solar cell.
A Solar Cell is the simplest component of the larger assembly, the solar module or solar panel. Sunlight in the form of photons impacts the solar cell where the solar energy is then converted into electricity by what is known as the photovoltaic effect.
Photovoltaics then is the term commonly used to describe the generation of electricity from sunlight. However, some applications for photovoltaic cells are utilized for the detection of infrared, for example, or to measure other factors of the light spectrum. Photovoltaics is also the name of the field of research itself, through which new and exciting technologies evolve into ever-improving designs and materials that produce electricity from solar energy.
To Make this a Couple of Steps Further –
Photons from the sun are absorbed into the material of the solar panel which is a semiconductor of electricity. (As a side note, semiconductors were the revolution of transistors which later became the integrated circuits of computer chips.)
Electrons within this material are agitated away from their otherwise stable orbits at an atomic level, which then flows through the semiconductor in only one direction. Inline diodes are used to prevent the current from flowing backward.
The end result is usable electricity we can use in the form of Direct Current, also known as DC.
The cells within the solar panel are usually connected in ‘series’, like a train, hence increasing voltage. Set up in parallel, meaning side by side, the amount of current would increase instead. Then when the Solar Panels are linked together they can be arranged in series or in parallel or in a combination thereof depending on the amount of voltage and amperage desired as an end result.
The direct current can then be stored in batteries using a DC controller (see the diagram – left) to protect the batteries from overcharging. This electricity can be utilized as needed for devices such as lighting, radios, CDs, computers, etc that can function on DC power.
The other scenario is that the DC can be converted to AC or alternating current using an AC Inverter (see the diagram – right). This is the kind of electricity typically used in your home i.e. when you plug something into the wall. While it should go without saying, any connections to your home’s electrical panel should be done by a qualified electrician.
In the event that you were to generate more electricity than you use then you would be pushing energy into the electrical grid and conceivably turning your meter backward, thus lowering your electric bill even more.
A Simple Schematic
As you can see, the resulting electrical energy produced by solar panels can be utilized in a variety of ways.
Well, I hope this helps to answer the essential question, “How does solar power work?“. The concepts are actually fairly simple and the application is too, either of which is worth understanding and utilizing. Of course, there is always more to learn. Please remember,
Caution is always advised when working with electricity.
When in doubt, ask questions and/or utilize the expertise of an electrician who knows how to safely set up these types of systems.
SAFETY FIRST and NEVER work with electricity when you are alone.