How Solar Panels Harness The Sun’s EnergyBy Caroline Prince | | SOLAR PANELS |
If you’ve invested in a solar array for your home or business, good on you! Solar energy is one of the cleanest forms of renewable energy. Energy generation in the States is largely dependent on coal and natural gas. Today, solar energy production accounts for only 1% of the total energy generated in the United States.
So, how exactly do solar panels work?
Solar panels, also called photovoltaic (PV) panels because they work on the basis of the photovoltaic effect: photo (light) and voltaic (electricity/voltage). PV panels are made up of hundreds of individual solar cells bundled together into compact units called solar modules.
Each of these cells made up of two – a negatively charged and positively charged – silicon films sandwiched together under a thin layer of glass. This seemingly simple arrangement packs quite a punch when excited by sunlight.
Light is made up of individual energy-bearing particles called “photons”. When these little energy balls hit the surface of the solar cells, they knock electrons off the surface of the silicon. In knocking the electron, the photon also transfers its own energy to the electrons – akin to what happens when a rolling marble hits a stationary marble. This causes the electrons to flow towards one side of the silicon cell. This flow of electrons is – you guessed it – the electricity that is generated by the cell.
The electricity generated by each solar module is routed through cables which terminate in a combiner box. The combiner box also includes an array of fuses to protect the module cables, as well as the outgoing connections.
The electricity generated by above set-up is a direct current. Enter the inverter, which converts the DC to the requisite 120/240-volt AC required by your home or business. This power generated by the inverter is distributed via a distributor to your home and to the power grid.
When the electricity used by the home/business is less than the power generated by the solar unit, the excess power flows back into the power grid. If the solar unit is unable to make up for the demand by the home, the deficit is made up by the utility company.
A question of efficiency
For solar panels to work efficiently, they need to be oriented correctly so as to capture the optimum amount of sunlight during the day – ideally between 9 AM to 3 PM. It isn’t just about the intent for energy efficiency projects but also about correct methods and proper installation. Finding the ideal mounting space can be tricky especially in areas with a fair amount of tree cover. Poor exposure on a single cell of your panel can have drastic effects on your unit’s energy efficiency. Solar tracking mounts will keep your panel optimally exposed at all times by physically tracking the sun’s movement through the day.
Solar systems that also feed directly into the utility’s power grid use a “net-metered” system, where the demand for power generated by the utility is reduced when the solar system is in operation. This significantly reduces overall energy costs. In addition, the more solar units installed within a utility’s service area, the less will be the dependence on the utility’s reserve power sources.
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