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How do solar panels work? What homeowners need to know about switching to solar!

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

What homeowners need to know about switching to a solar panel system
How do solar panels works?

Introduction: How do solar panels work?

At Alchemy Solar, our goal is to provide every home in America with solar energy. Over the past decade, solar energy systems' price has decreased as component production, equipment efficiency, and financial options have improved.

As more and more homeowners in California and Hawaii begin to understand that solar energy is a great option for them, the first question that people are asking is, "how do solar panels work?" At Alchemy, we want to make sure that everyone is educated on solar, so we will dive into how a solar panel system produces electricity and show why going solar is an excellent decision for most homeowners.

Overview: How do solar panels work?

  • Residential Solar Panels are made up of silicon cells. Silicon acts as a semiconductor that can convert sun rays into electricity.

  • The direct current (DC) energy produced by the Photovoltaic Solar Panels is converted into alternating current (AC) energy with inverter technology. The AC energy flows into the home's electrical panel and is used throughout the home

  • To see how solar panels would work at your home, schedule a free educational consultation with Alchemy Solar

How do residential solar panel systems work? Step by step overview?

The advent of the modern solar panel happened in 1954 at the Bell Labs by creating the silicon photovoltaic (PV) by Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson. Since photovoltaic solar panels' invention, the silicon photovoltaic efficiency has improved from 4 percent efficiency to between 16 and 20% on average! This increased efficiency has been a massive factor in the residential solar industry's growth because of the decreased cost of installing a solar panel system.

Photovoltaic cells allow photons from particles of light to knock electrons from atoms. This process creates a flow of electricity. The electricity that is generated is direct current (DC). The DC energy is not usable in most American homes, but it is converted to alternating current (AC) by a piece of equipment known as an inverter. The AC then moves from the inverter into the electrical panel of the home. Once in the home, the current is used to power the home's appliances, outlets, and other electrical needs.

Step by step overview:

  1. The silicon photovoltaic cells in a solar panel allow photons to knock electrons from atoms, creating Direct Current (DC)

  2. The solar inverter transforms the Direct Current (DC) from the solar panel to Alternating Current (AC)

  3. The Alternating Current (AC) flows into the homes electrical panel, and into the home

  4. The electricity is used by the home's electrical appliances and other electrical needs

  5. Any extra electricity produced by the solar panels but not used in the home is fed back into the utility's electrical grid.

What is a solar panel made of?

A standard residential solar panel or solar module, as they are sometimes known, is made up of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass top layer, insulation, a protective back sheet, and wiring that connects the silicon cells while also allowing for the flow of DC out of the panel. Silicon posing the atomic number of 14 is mixed with other elements (frequently phosphorous) that allow the silicon wafer to take in sunlight and convert it into electricity.

The silicon wafers are placed on a backsheet, wired together, covered in a piece of glass, and held in a metal case. The glass and metal case ensure that the silicon wafers and wiring are protected from impurities, moisture, dust, debris, or other things that can harm the silicons ability to produce electricity.

The additional components also help regulate the temperature of the panel and keep out of humidity. Regulating temperature is extremely important because increases in temperature and humidity exposure can lower a panel's efficiency, harming the solar panel performance.

Because solar panels do not have any moving parts, they are incredibly reliable and usually have a warranty that lasts at least 25 years.

How do solar panels work to generate electricity?

When sunlight strikes the silicon cell, electrons begin to move. This movement of electrons starts the movement of electrical current. The process of the movement of these electrons into the electrical current is commonly referred to as the "photovoltaic effect."

The photovoltaic effect is the driving force behind the solar panel's ability to create electricity.

The photovoltaic effect:

The photovoltaic effect was first discovered in 1839 by French Scientist Edmond Becquerel while he experimented in his father's laboratory. Edmond Becquerel discovered that some materials possess characteristics that allow them to generate electrical current when exposed to sunlight.

Simplified Step by Step Guide To The Photovoltaic Effect:

  1. Silicon photovoltaic solar cell soak up sunlight radiation

  2. The radiation of the sun interact with the silicon cell leading to the movement of electrons

  3. This movement creates the flow of electric current

  4. Wires connecting the silicon photovoltaic solar cells capture the electrical current as direct current (DC)

  5. The solar panel system's wiring connects the panels to the solar inverter, allowing for the direct current (DC) to be converted to alternating current (AC) electricity.

How do solar panels work with your home?

For a typical residential solar installation, a group or "array" of solar panels will be placed side by side on a homeowner's roof. When the solar panel system is designed correctly, it should be done on the roof with maximum sun exposure, best orientation (usually south), and fewest obstruction (an obstruction is anything that can shade the solar panels).

When the sun rises in the morning, sunlight strikes the panels. From this point until the sun goes down or the sun is obstructed for any reason, the solar cells will be capturing sunlight and converting it into Direct Current. The power from the array of solar panels will flow into the solar inverter (the leading solar inverters are Enphase and SolarEdge) and transform into alternating current (AC) before flowing into the home's electrical panel. The electricity flows into the home and ensures that the home's electrical needs are powered by the solar panel system instead of the electrical utility's power.

Because most homes have lower electrical loads during the day, excess solar power will usually flow back into the utility grid when the solar panels produce power.

How does a grid-connected solar panel system work with the utility grid?

The electricity that the solar system produces flows into the home before any excess electricity produced flows back into the electrical grid.

The vast majority of homeowners in the United States have access to what is known as Net Energy Metering metering. Net Metering is an incentive for residential solar that provides a financial incentive that improves a solar system's economics. For homeowners with access to Net Metering, the access electricity that flows back through the utility meter and into the grid will be provided a credit on their utility bill. The credits can be used anytime the home draws extra electricity from the grid (most frequently during the evening or on cloudy days).

These credits ensure that homeowners can use the power they produce to offset or eliminate utility charges instead of purchasing electricity from the utility at its standard rate. Not all utilities provide Net Metering, but many have a program that helps to incentivize solar panel systems even in utilities without it.

How homeowners can generate significant electrical savings?

Several factors are considered for those starting to consider a solar panel array for their home, including financing, solar panel efficiency, equipment, installer selection, and warranties.

In addition to the specifics of the system, you pick other factors that can impact solar savings. It is important to explore additional solar incentives such as the solar federal investment tax credit, Hawaiin Electric's Solar Self Supply Program, or the California Self-Generation Incentive Program for energy storage to significantly improve a homeowner's savings when switching to solar.

Conclusion: Can Solar Panels Work For You?

As solar cells' efficiency has improved, the solar industry has expanded, and utilities have developed programs for taking advantage of the excess energy produced by solar panel systems. Solar not only provides an environemntal benefit but it helps save homeonwers money on utility costs and increases a homes value.

The economics of solar now makes sense for the vast majority of homeowners. Every solar installation is different, that is why homeowners should get all the questions they have about how solar panels would work for them.

If you have any questions about how solar panels work or would like to see if your solar panels can help save you money on your utility bill, schedule a free consultation with Alchemy Solar.

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