Solar energy isn’t new to people and we all have been hearing about solar panels for a really long time. However, not a lot of people know the science that works behind a solar panel. If you are curious to know how solar panels work step by step, then this blog is for you. But before learning about those steps, let’s first throw some light on what form of energy is a solar panel.
What is Solar Energy? What Form of Energy is a Solar Panel?
The solar radiation emitted from the sun is called solar energy. On a daily basis, the earth receives this renewable form of energy. Humans have developed technologies to convert this solar energy into usable electricity.
A solar panel harnesses solar energy and is a green, alternative energy source. The panels are made up of many solar cells which have the ability to convert solar energy from the sun into usable electrical energy. The conversion of solar energy to electrical power is called the photovoltaic effect. After understanding what form of energy is a solar panel, let’s start exploring how solar panels work step by step.
How Solar Panels Work Step By Step
Solar panels have been in use for decades. They are the mascots of green solar energy but not many folks know what actually goes behind the working of solar panels. It’s not just getting sunlight and converting it into sunlight, it’s a bit more complex. Let’s see how solar panels work step by step.
Step 1: Capturing Solar Energy
The very first step of how solar panels work step by step is to capture the sun’s energy. For powering your house, the panels convert solar energy from sunlight into electrical energy. Mostly, solar panels are made from three semiconductors thin film solar cells, monocrystalline silicon, or polycrystalline silicon.
When the thin layer of the semiconductive material of the solar panels is hit by the sunlight, it triggers the release of electrons from silicon atoms. This cause the negatively charged electron to be attracted to the positively charged side of the cell. This photovoltaic effect occurs due to the free-flowing electrons within the solar panel. An electric current is created by moving electrons. The wiring connected to the solar panels harnesses this current to produce electricity.
The energy generated by the solar panel is directly proportional to the sunlight that reaches the panel; the more sunlight reaches the panel, the more energy it generates. The solar panels in any solar array receive the maximum amount of sunlight during peak sun hours. This means that during these hours the panels can convert sunlight to generate the maximum amount of electricity.
Step 2: Converting DC to AC
The electricity produced by solar panels is in the form of direct current (DC), Such a current just flows in one direction. However, your home appliances don’t use DC, they use (AC) alternating current electricity. This is because AC electricity flows in both directions.
This is a reason why the electricity generated by your solar panels needs to be converted from DC to AC, it makes the solar electricity used for your home. You need an inverter to convert DC power to AC power. Without an inverter, your system will continue to produce electricity but won’t be capable of powering anything.
The configuration and size of your home solar system will help you determine the type of inverter you’ll need.
A string inverter is typically used for a simple system. It’s a single box in the central location near your circuit. On the other hand, more intricate systems fo for microinverters. In such systems, each panel has its own individual inverters. Depending on your home’s energy needs, you can also go for power optimizers and power inverters.
Additionally, solar inverters also help you connect your solar panels to the internet. This is so that you can access the information on your system’s performance online. This way you can compare your solar system’s energy production and your household’s energy consumption. It allows you to check if your solar system is functioning well and meeting your ideal electrical load.
Step 3: Electricity Distribution By Electrical Panel
Your electricity panel is responsible for distributing electricity throughout your home. In case of a fault or surge, the circuit breakers in the electrical panel can also stop the flow of current to an electrical circuit. This is to prevent any overload in electrical lines as it can further cause damage.
Although your solar panels are responsible for generating electricity, they aren’t directly connected to your electronic devices or appliances. The solar panels provide electricity to the electrical panel and that electrical panel then separates the home solar power into individual circuits. This power runs to everything in the house.
Lastly, electrical panels are also an important component of consumption monitoring. You can view more details about your specific energy consumption by attaching devices to either the main panel or each individual circuit. Over time, this will help you optimize your energy usage.
Also Read: How to Connect 3 Solar Panels in Parallel
Step 4: Recording Consumption and Production by Electric Meter
Your utility company uses an electric/utility meter to measure your electricity consumption. This helps them bill you the correct amount each month. In a traditional electrical meter, there are analog dials. When the current flows through the meter, these dials spin. The meter reading is just a concise summary of your monthly electricity consumption. The utility has someone check your meter each month.
When you start using the solar system, you use electricity produced by your panels. This ultimately lowers the amount of electricity you consume from the grid. Due to this, the utility meter records a lot less consumption and thus you end up saving a lot of money by not paying for that electricity to the utility company.
Mostly, homes with solar panels have a smart meter that records the exact energy consumption of your home. The smart meters send real-time usage data to your local utility company for research purposes, customer service, and of course billing. Such a meter eliminates the need for estimated bills by measuring the exact electricity consumption.
Net Metering and Smart Meters
If you have opted for a smart meter, it allows you to take advantage of the net metering present in your area. In your solar panel system is connected to the electricity grid, then for any surplus electricity generation, the net metering allows you to get credits from your local utility company.
In addition to your electricity consumption, your smart meter will also record your energy production. When you generate more than the needed energy, you can export the excess power to the grid. This way you can earn credits and reduce your future bills.
Step 5: Excess Energy is Stored By the Batteries
In order to maximize the long-term benefits of going solar, it is very essential to install solar battery storage. In case, your solar panels are producing more energy than your need, use a solar battery to store this extra electricity. This way, you’ll have electricity available for you even if the sun goes down or even if it’s rainy, you won’t need to draw power from the electricity grid.
Based on their types, solar batteries can either be charged by AC electricity that’s already been converted by your inverter or they can be used to store excess DC electricity that’s produced by your solar panels. After this, let’s see do solar panels generate AC or DC.
Do Solar Panels Generate AC or DC?
Solar panels generate DC electricity that flows in only one direction but your household appliances mostly use AC electricity. You will need an inverter to convert solar energy into a usable form for your home. Primarily two main types of inverters are used in solar panels: microinverters or string inverters ( also called central inverters). This should have made you understand do solar panels generate AC or DC. After this, let’s further explore how do solar panels work on a house.
Also See: How to Wire a 5000 Watt Inverter?
How Do Solar Panels Work On a House?
After learning about how solar panels work step by step, you must also be curious to know how do solar panels work on a house. Well, in a home solar system, when the sunlight falls on the panels it gets absorbed by the PV cells. The solar energy is then converted into electrical energy by the silicon semiconductors in the PV cells. This happens due to the PV effect. Now, the electric energy produced is in the form of DC which is capable of directly charging the battery.
The DC power is then sent to an inverter where it’s converted into AC power. This AC power is sent to the mains of the house and now you’ll be able to power all necessary applications of the house.
Also See: BIPV vs BAPV
What are the Advantages of Solar Panels?
The major advantages of solar panels are as follows-
- They are based on solar energy and are thus renewable energy based.
- They provide you with energy independence.
- They reduce your electricity bill.
- They are a long-term investment and also increase your home value.
- Lastly, they have a low maintenance cost.
What are the Disadvantages of Solar Panels?
Although there are a lot of noticeable advantages of solar panels they still many shortcomings that we need to address.
- They have a high upfront cost and their installation can be a bit challenging.
- They are sunlight dependant. On cloudy days or days when there isn’t ample sunlight, their efficiency reduces a lot.
- Storing solar energy is expensive.
- It’s quite difficult to relocate solar panels.
With this, we have come to the end of the how solar panels work step by step guide. There are numerous factors working behind a solar panel’s working and knowing them is very important to understand solar energy.
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