How Do Solar Energy and Solar Panels Work?

The world is continually looking for alternative sources of energy to propel practically everything. That’s why solar panels have risen in popularity, because they capture the sun’s natural – and absolutely free – energy.
Many people may have solar panels installed in their homes and facilities, but don’t have an idea about the science behind them. Here’s a quick guide on how solar panels work to convert solar energy into useful power.

The Science
A solar panel is made up of several photovoltaic (PV) cells that have the ability to convert light into electricity. A typical solar panel consists of a top phosphorus-diffused layer made of silicon and a bottom boron-doped layer.

In the case of solar panels, light comes in the form of photons, which are essentially particles of light that naturally come from the sun. As sunlight hits the surface of the solar panel, the solar cells convert the photons into electrons in the form of direct current (DC) electricity. These electrons travel through an inverter, which transforms DC electricity into alternating current (AC). It’s this form of electricity that is used in homes, offices and medium-sized establishments.

The easy-to-understand version
Lost in the scientific jargon? Here’s a simpler explanation of what happens with your solar panels:

  • Light from the sun hits the solar panel.
  • The solar panel converts the light particles into DC electricity.
  • The current passes through a built-in inverter, which converts DC into AC electricity. This is the kind of electricity used to power home appliances.

What happens to unused solar energy?
Most solar panel installations are hooked to a bi-directional meter that monitors the solar power received. Unused energy will be returned to the grid via the meter. In fact, many cities that welcome solar energy as part of their power supply allow for this extra energy to be credited back to the owner’s bill. This net metering scheme is already being implemented in San Diego and the whole of California.

If you’re searching for ways to save on energy costs in the long haul, solar energy is a practical power resource to not only reduce your expenses but also save the environment.

[Photo courtesy of redplanet89 on Flickr]