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How Does Solar Power Work?

September 2, 2021Solaris National
male engineer holding blueprints in solar power station

What is solar power and how does it work?

Homeowners in every state across the United States are asking if solar is a viable alternative energy source to the large centralized power plants. This is especially true as the cost of electricity from the national power grid keeps rising and solar power has dropped in recent years.  ​The cost of solar power electricity has actually dropped by 89% in the past 10 years.

This is accompanied by significant advances in technological efficiencies and manufacturing quality.​ 2,934,377 Solar energy systems were installed nationwide in the first quarter of 2021.

As solar energy in the States becomes more widespread, an obvious question that keeps coming up is - How does solar power work?

How does solar power work? Solar power works by converting sunlight that hits the solar panels into electricity. And state-of-the-art solar panels are so powerful, that after they have produced enough electricity for your home, the extra electricity can be exported to the grid.

Solar power systems on your roof produce DC (Direct Current) electricity. This is what your car battery uses and it isn’t the type of electricity used in your home. We use AC (Alternating Current) electricity in our homes.

When the solar panels make the DC electricity, it is sent from your solar panels into a solar inverter, transforming it into AC (Alternating Current) electricity.

People estimate that in 90 minutes, the amount of sunshine that touches the earth's surface is enough to power the entire world's energy usage for a year.


Photovoltaic (PV) panels or mirrors that concentrate solar radiation, use solar technologies to convert sunlight into electrical energy. This energy is converted into electricity and is used immediately in your home appliances and the excess power is stored in batteries for use at night or sent back to the power grid.

Diagram of an off-grid solar power system with panels battery, charge controller and inverter

How Does Solar Power Work in a Home?

● How does solar power work? Silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells are the key components that make up your solar panels. When the sun shines on your solar power system, the solar PV cells collect the sunlight and produce electricity through the photovoltaic effect.

The electricity generated by your panels is known as direct current (DC) electricity. It is not the kind of electricity that is used by your equipment in your home. Instead, your central inverter receives the DC electricity (or micro inverter, depending on your system setup) and converts it into AC electricity.

Our air conditioning, refrigeration, computers, kitchen appliances, and any other home appliances use AC electricity.

● A thin semiconductor wafer comprised of two layers of silicon is contained within each solar cell. An electric field gets created when one layer is positively charged and the other is negatively charged. When sunlight contacts a photovoltaic solar cell, it energizes it, causing electrons to "break loose" from atoms within the semiconductor wafer.

Two men looking at all types of solar equipment

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Does Your Home Qualify For Solar?

● Your inverter can convert DC electricity into AC electricity, which you can use in your home. The AC electric power is then directed to your switchboard from the inverters.

● Your usable AC electricity is directed to the power panel on your home and then to the appliances in your home via a switchboard. Your switchboard will always make sure that your solar power gets used first to power your home. Then additional energy is drawn from the grid being used only when your solar energy is insufficient.

When your panels produce more electricity than you can use, the excess is sent to the electric grid or to your solar battery for use later (at night, for instance).

● A bi-directional meter (utility meter) is necessary for all solar residences, which your electricity provider will install for you. A bi-directional meter can track power usage in the home and how much solar energy gets exported back to the grid. This gets referred to as net-metering.

You will get paid back from the utility company for this excess electricity depending on the state you live in.

● Any solar energy that isn't used gets returned to the grid. A feed-in tariff is a credit that you get on your electricity bill if you export solar power back to the grid (FiT). Your electricity bills will then reflect the electricity you buy from the grid, as well as credits for electricity generated by your solar power system but not used.

You won’t have to switch between solar and grid electricity because your solar power system will know when it's optimal to do so based on the quantity of energy consumed in your home. Hence there are no moving parts in a solar power system. It takes very little maintenance, so you won't even notice it's there. This also implies that a high-quality solar power system will last for many years.

Learn more about switching solar with Solaris National Here.

Cartoon Illustration Solar Panels During Daytime

Your solar inverter (which is normally located in your garage or another easily accessible location) can tell you how much power it is generating at any given time, as well as how much power it has made in a single day or during the course of its activity. Wireless connectivity and advanced online monitoring are available on many high-quality inverters.

How Do Solar Panels Work at Night?

Solar panels work tirelessly throughout the day to generate electricity from the sun. You also can configure your solar power system so it can get used at night or during a power outage.

Through net metering and solar battery storage, you can continue to benefit from their energy production after sunset.

solar power working at night on a home

​​So, how does solar power work at night, you might wonder? They can do it in two ways:

1. Solar battery storage
Solar energy storage can be accomplished in two ways. During the day, most solar power systems provide more energy than your home requires. A solar power battery system is used to store the excess electricity generated throughout the day.

This is an alternative to sending power back to the grid. It allows you to keep the power you have generated for use at night or in case of a power outage. You can use the stored energy in the battery system to power your home at night when your solar panels go on a sleep mode. 

 

Some homes with this setup can even run totally off the grid, meaning they are not reliant on the utility.

2. Net metering

Net metering is when you use the grid to store energy. You can still use your extra solar energy at night if your solar power system does not contain storage. How does solar power work? Through the use of net metering!

Net metering eliminates the need for physical energy storage at your home. Instead, your solar panels' surplus electricity gets exported to the utility grid during the day. For this power, you will get credits, which will get added to your account.

You could use your credits to reduce the cost of electricity at a later, whether it's at night or at another time when you consume grid power.

To put it another way: Net metering allows you to store the economic worth of the excess energy you generate, which you may then utilize to lower or even eliminate your electric costs. 

 

Solar power is a great value, thanks to net metering. Each state decides its own net metering policies so you would need to check what your state provides.

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The Bottom Line

Even on cloudy days, your solar panel system will operate, and it will perform even better if it isn't too hot. Your solar panel brand will determine the solar panel efficiency in different weather conditions.

Finally, solar energy is a great choice for not only enterprises but also individuals and their homes. And if you add a solar battery to your system, you will have electricity even in a widespread blackout.

Solar is here to stay because it delivers the power you need and it works. If you think your home would be a good candidate for solar panels check out our short quiz to see how well it can work for you and your home.

Homeowners in every state across the United States are asking if solar is a viable alternative energy source to the large centralized power plants....
September 2, 2021 | Solaris National
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