It is important that everyone understand how much solar energy is coming to our planet at any given moment. The earth, at least on one side, is being continuously hit with 173,000 terawatts of energy. If that doesn’t mean anything to you then just understand that it’s about 10,000 times the world’s energy use. How does solar energy work? In this blog post I’m going to explain how solar energy works and why it is so important that we know the answer and take advantage of this massive energy source.
We are going to look at all the main parts and pieces of a typical solar setup. This will give you an idea of what you need to get your own solar system up and running.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
Solar energy all starts with solar panels. each silicon stack that makes up a single solar cell is designed to create a small electrical field. This charge is captured and becomes DC or direct current energy.
Most of what you power in your home uses alternating current or AC power. So, in order to take advantage of the energy being collected, you need an inverter to change that power from DC to AC power. This power is then used to charge batteries that can power your home even when the sun is down.
That is the simple version of how solar panel works to power your home. Now, let’s dig down and get a little more detailed as we answer the question, “How does solar energy work?”
There are three popular types of solar panels on the market today. Each of them has some pros and cons but the question “how does solar energy work?” can only be answered if you understand solar panels.
These harvest the sunlight and turn it into electricity. You want to have the right kind of solar panel to meet your needs.
Polycrystalline solar panels were the first to be created and are rectangular in shape. They are a very material-efficient type of solar panel to produce and because of this, they are the most affordable solar panels on the market.
However, polycrystalline solar panels are not as efficient or as heat tolerant as monocrystalline. At the end of the day, the polycrystalline solar panel will not generate as much electricity as the mono. If you are not scraping the bottom of the barrel to build a solar panel system then I would recommend avoiding the polycrystalline.
When we ask ourselves, “how does solar energy work on a large scale,” it has to be affordable and effective. If low startup costs are important to you then you might want to consider polycrystalline solar panels.
The monocrystalline solar panel is going to cost you more than the polycrystalline but it is because the performance and materials are better. The silicon used in making these solar panels is purer than that used in poly solar panels. The round cylindrical design allows them to produce more electricity.
These solar panels are more expensive but they also tend to have a longer lifespan and are covered by longer warranties to assure you still get a great value. If you are supplementing your energy needs with solar power then a polycrystalline setup might be your answer. However, if you are attempting to get off the grid then you will do better to pay for the monocrystalline solar panels.
You can even create a system of both types.
Thin-film solar panels are a newer technology that is looking to make the initial costs of solar power more affordable. Where solar panels have traditionally been about individual cells on a sturdy panel, the thin film is flexible and very thin.
Thin film solar panels are produced by combining thin layers of semiconductors. These materials all work together to harness the power of the sun and turn it into electricity.
- cadium telluride
- copper indium gallium selenide
The trouble with thin film solar is that it is less efficient. You need more roof space if you are going to use thin film solar. That may or may not be an option for you. The other problem with thin film solar is that it tends to degrade much faster than crystalline solar panels.
This is a newer technology and it will improve over time, but all of this needs to be considered when you decide to invest in solar power.
All of the electricity that you gather from solar radiation is going to need to be inverted. It is going to be produced as direct current. This direct current is not compatible with any appliances or systems in your home. If you wonder “how does solar energy work?”, this is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle.
This is why every solar power system must have an inverter built into it. Without the inverter, you will be producing a bunch of electricity that you simply cannot use.
Just like choosing your solar panels, you have some decisions to make when it comes to the type of inverter that you want to use.
This type of inverter is the most affordable and the most common. In most home solar systems you will find some form of a string inverter. They are also called central inverters. As you can imagine these plentiful and affordable inverters are older tech and not the most efficient.
However, they will get you off the ground and transform your solar power into something that can power your home. That is what you are looking for in an inverter. If it can turn DC current into AC then you are in business.
A microinverter is very different from a string inverter. The string inverter very literally takes power from a “string” of solar panels that are wired together and converts all of the power generated from DC to AC.
Microinverters attach to each individual solar panel and convert the energy right there at the panel. This makes each panel an autonomous energy producer. The power that comes out of each solar panel is immediately converted for use.
This is a new concept and one that will be adopted at large in the future. This new technology is much more expensive. Microinverters are the most expensive type of inverter that you can buy.
These inverters are tied right into the individual solar cell. They are very similar to microinverters but not as expensive. They actually make the solar panel even more efficient which is always a big benefit.
Power optimizers are all part of this technology that is making solar energy more affordable and effective. When you ask, “how does solar energy work,” in 10 years the answer will likely be very different. That is because of advancing tech like this.
Tracked Mounting and Fixed Mounting
How does solar energy work with mounting? Well, mounting can be done in two ways. Each way has a distinct benefit but will require some decision-making.
How Does Solar Energy Work with Fixed Mounted Panels?
If you use a fixed mounting system for your solar panels then the panels will be installed and angled optimally to create the most efficiency and gather the most sunlight throughout the day. Properly positioned fixed-mounted solar panels are vital to the success of your system.
They will forever be in this position and despite the season and the sun they have to gather as much electricity as possible.
How Does Solar Energy Work with Tracked Mounted Panels?
Tracked mounting is a more expensive method of mounting solar panels and it puts them on swiveling mounts that are designed to follow the sun throughout the day. These panels are designed to track the sun so that each panel is always getting the most sunlight available at that moment.
Tracked mounting is a great idea and you will get the most out of your solar energy system but you will also pay much more for this kind of mounting. It will also use up some electricity to operate.
Fixed mounting is less efficient than tracked mounting but it is far cheaper. Tracked mounting is much more efficient but costs a lot more. Solar energy is all about decisions and budget at the end of the day.
Powering Your Home and Managing Solar Power
Contrary to popular belief, solar power is not like powering your home on the grid. While it is a renewable resource it is very much a limited resource each day and you will have to manage the amount of power you use every single day if you choose to power your lifestyle using only solar.
In the winter you will have to clear snow off of your solar panels in order for them to work. Any debris that accrues on them throughout the year will limit how effectively they work. So, you will be the maintenance man for your solar system, too. That means you need to be very careful about where you install them as you will need to access them.
If you power your home off renewables only, then you will have to get used to powering down much earlier. Basically, when the sun goes down your energy consumption has to be reduced so that you have some extra power for the next morning before the sun gets all the way up and starts hitting your panels.
How Does Solar Energy Work to Save You Money?
After the upfront investment, solar energy will save you money in the long run. In some states with certain programs, you can even get much of the cost of your solar installation reimbursed.
Whether you decide to patch your solar system into the grid or create an off-grid power system, you will be able to take advantage of the savings of solar power and in the long run, it will cost you much less than drawing power directly from the power grid.
How Does Solar Energy Work If You Aren’t Off Grid?
Solar power can be fed into your home in two ways. It can work as the main power source for your home. This is what most people consider to be off-grid. You will not have any power company feeding lines into your home. It’s solar or bust for you.
Then there are people who use both solar power and power from the grid. Their system can even generate an excess of power that it sells back to the power company. So, you do not have to be off-grid to use solar. You do not have to generate all of your power from solar either.
How Does Solar Energy Work at Night?
This is a common concern that most people have when it comes to solar power. Eventually, the sun goes down the solar panels are no longer actively producing power. This is when the batteries kick in. All day you have used some power from your system to power your home, however, you have also been powering a collection of batteries or a large battery that will kick on when the solar energy stops coming from the sky.
These batteries will power your needs while the sun is down and then when the sun comes back up it will charge your batteries back up for the next night.
Wrapping Up “How Does Solar Energy Work?”
When we ask ourselves, “how does solar energy work?”, well, the answer has to be, “it works well pretty much all the time.” All over the world solar energy is at work powering homes, businesses, and much more. Also, if solar energy were a book we would only be a few paragraphs into the preface. There is so much more to come.
So long as we do not obliterate ourselves or succumb to some other kind of self-inflicted wound, humanity will eventually harness the power of the sun and meet all of its energy needs.
If you’re interested in being prepared for a disaster situation, check out The 7 Most Important Disaster Prepper Supplies.