How Do Solar Panels Work?

Learn more about how solar panels function and generate power for residences & businesses

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Learn more about how solar panels function and generate power for residences & businesses

What is the functioning principle of solar power? In simple terms, solar panels transform sunlight into electricity, which can be either utilized instantly or stored in batteries. The sun serves as an abundant and continuous source of energy. To put it into perspective, the sunlight reaching Earth in just 90 minutes could potentially provide electricity for the entire planet for a full year – all we need to do is capture it! This is where solar panels play a crucial role.

How Solar Panels Power a Residence

Solar power boasts a wide range of applications, from energizing small devices such as calculators and automobiles to supplying energy to entire communities and even supporting space stations like the Webb Space Telescope.

However, for most individuals, the primary interest lies in understanding how solar panels can effectively power their homes and contribute to reducing their electricity bills. Here's a step-by-step overview of the process:

Solar Energy Capture: When sunlight strikes a solar panel, it initiates the photovoltaic effect (PV effect), generating an electric charge.

Conversion to AC: This electric charge is then directed to inverters, which transform it from direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) electricity.

Home Integration: The AC electricity seamlessly flows through your home's electrical panel, circulating just like electricity from the grid.

Excess Energy Handling: Any surplus solar energy can either be stored in batteries for later use or fed back into the grid, contributing to local energy needs, including powering your neighbor's residence.

Net Metering: Solar panel owners can take advantage of net metering, a system that credits them for the surplus energy they inject into the grid. These credits offset the grid electricity they draw when their solar panels are not producing electricity.

Battery Storage: With the addition of battery storage, solar panel owners can store excess energy generated during the day for nighttime use, ensuring a continuous power supply.

Now that we've covered the fundamentals, let's delve deeper into the intricate workings of solar panels.

How Solar Power Operates: Illuminating the Photovoltaic Effect

Solar power generation is achieved through the photovoltaic (PV) effect, a phenomenon that is central to the functioning of solar panels, often referred to as PV panels.

The PV effect unfolds as follows: when photons originating from the sun's rays strike the semiconductive material, typically silicon, within the solar module's cell, a transformation occurs. These incoming photons stimulate electrons, causing them to detach themselves from the semiconductive material.

In this process photons collide with the solar panel, inducing the liberation of electrons during the photovoltaic effect. Subsequently, these liberated electrons traverse through the solar cells, making their way along wires positioned at the panel's perimeter and ultimately reaching a junction box in the form of direct current (DC) electricity. This DC current then embarks on a journey from the solar panel to an inverter, where it undergoes conversion into alternating current (AC). This AC electricity is ready for utilization in powering homes and structures.

Harnessing Solar Energy for Your Home's Power Needs

In the context of powering residences with solar energy, most home solar systems are designed to be "grid-tied." This configuration establishes a connection between the solar system, the home's electrical setup, and the local utility grid, typically facilitated through the primary electrical service panel.

The integration of these systems offers several advantages:

Day-Night Energy Balance: This setup allows you to utilize solar electricity generated during the day and seamlessly transition to grid electricity at night, ensuring a continuous power supply for your home.

Excess Energy Contribution: Additionally, your solar system can feed surplus electricity into the local grid, providing power to neighboring homes, including your neighbor's residence.

Net Metering Benefits: Through the mechanism of net metering, you accumulate credits for any surplus solar electricity production. These credits are then employed to offset the grid electricity you consume during nighttime hours.

For homeowners seeking enhanced energy management and resilience, there is the option of incorporating battery storage into their solar system. In this scenario:

Home Solar with Battery Storage: The process closely mirrors the one described above, with the notable difference being that excess solar energy is initially stored in batteries located within your home or garage.

This configuration proves particularly advantageous in several situations:

Off-Grid Solar Systems: For locations where connection to the local utility grid is not feasible, a solar and battery setup ensures a reliable power supply.

Backup Power during Outages: During grid outages, the stored energy in the batteries can serve as a backup power source, ensuring the continuity of essential services.

Areas Lacking Net Metering Policies: In regions where net metering policies are absent, solar coupled with battery storage enables homeowners to maximize self-consumption of solar energy.

In essence, this approach empowers you to fuel your home with 100% clean and renewable energy while affording flexibility and resilience in your energy supply.

Varieties of Materials Employed in Solar Panels

Solar panels, the cornerstone of renewable energy generation, often feature two primary types of solar cells: monocrystalline and polycrystalline (also known as multi-crystalline). These cells are responsible for converting sunlight into electricity. Here's an overview of both types:

Monocrystalline Solar Cells:

  • Typically exhibit a darker color, frequently black or dark gray in appearance.
  • Excel in performance under high-temperature conditions and in shaded environments.
  • Tend to be on the higher end of the cost spectrum.
  • Particularly suitable for scenarios with limited roof or project space, offering the potential for a better return on investment.

Polycrystalline Solar Cells:

  • Often appears as a dark blue when exposed to light.
  • Display slightly lower efficiency levels in elevated temperatures.
  • Tend to be more budget-friendly compared to their monocrystalline counterparts.
  • Prove effective when there is an abundance of roof space available.

Furthermore, some solar panel manufacturers produce panels incorporating a combination of mono and polycrystalline wafers within their solar cells. This hybrid approach enables the capture of energy across a broader spectrum of light conditions.

When considering a home solar system, it's prudent to inquire about the cell type ("mono or poly") integrated into your system design. This choice can have implications for both the aesthetics and economics of your solar project.

Influence of Sun Exposure on Solar Panel Efficiency

Achieving optimal sun exposure is crucial for maximizing the efficiency of your solar panels. It's essential to ensure that your panels receive ample insolation (sun exposure) throughout the day and remain free from obstructions such as trees or nearby objects that could cast shadows.

Several factors play a role in determining solar panel efficiency:

Temperature: Solar panels operate at their best when exposed to temperatures ranging from 59 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Type of Solar Panel: Solar panels vary in efficiency, typically falling within the range of 15-20%, with top-performing panels achieving up to 23% efficiency.

Shading: Solar panels deliver their optimal performance in unobstructed sunlight. Even partial shading can significantly diminish panel efficiency.

Orientation and Angle: Solar panels function most efficiently when directly facing the sun. Often, they are tilted to ensure they capture the maximum amount of sunlight.

Solar engineers employ satellite imagery and advanced techniques to assess the best panel types and placement for your specific location, aiming to achieve the highest solar panel efficiency for your home.

In summary, solar energy's potential to transform our energy landscape is vast, with the ability to reduce carbon footprints, lower electricity bills, and enhance energy resilience. Understanding the principles behind solar power generation, the influence of sun exposure on efficiency, and the options for panel materials empower individuals and communities to seek solar energy solutions, harness the sun's abundant energy and contribute to a more sustainable future.

For more information about solar panels visit to see if solar energy is right for your home.