August 15, 2014

How Solar Power Works: The Basics

Solar Power: Back to Basics

Ahh, the sun. How we love that big power plant up in the sky…it’s filling the Earth with free energy.  Usually, when light hits an object the energy created from the light turns into heat, like the warmth you feel when you sit in the sun. But when light hits certain materials, the energy turns into electrical currents which we can use for power. But let’s take a closer look at how solar power works.

Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, and these cells are made up of materials called semiconductors. Photovoltaic simply means they convert sunlight into electricity. Many of these cells linked together make up a solar panel. Metal conductive plates on the sides of the cell collect the electrons and transfer them to wires. During the day, solar cells absorb particles of sunlight and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. At that point, the electrons can flow like any other source of electricity.

DC electricity travels to a device called the inverter where it is converted into alternating current (AC) electricity, the standard electricity used to power your appliances and home. The inverter is typically installed on an exterior wall or in the garage. By definition, “A solar inverter, or PV inverter, converts the variable direct current output of a photovoltaic solar panel into a utility frequency alternating current  that can be fed into a commercial electrical grid or used by a local, off-grid electrical network.”

AC electricity then travels from the inverter to your electrical panel (also called the breaker box) and then into your home to power your lights and appliances.

The energy you use is measured by your utility meter, and when your solar system produces more power than you need, this meter spins backward. Excess energy is fed back to your utility company’s grid, earning you credits for contributing to the local energy supply if you’re in one of the 43 states that support net metering. (Click here for a map of those states.) You only pay for your yearly net power usage. For example, your solar system will most likely produce more energy in the summer, when energy rates are highest, and then you can bank excess energy credits to use when you need them within a one-year cycle.

You’re still connected to the grid, since you’ll need power from the utility company at night, but that’s where those credits you earned during the day come in handy. The cost of any power you use when it’s dark out will be offset by the clean energy you put into the grid during the day.

Why is understanding the basics of solar energy important? Every beam of light that we can convert into electricity is another step in reducing our dependence on polluting fossil fuels, and that’s one way we can help preserve our planet for ourselves and future generations. Want to know more about going solar? Give us a shout!

KMB Design Group is at the forefront of the escalating solar industry, and is considered a leading consulting firm in the renewable energy field providing photovoltaic design and engineering services.  Our Solar engineers will give you full analysis and let you know how much energy can be drawn with considerations such as location, obstructions and orientations. We will also provide you with the best designs that will give you maximum output. Licensed in 49 states, we have the ability to work nationally without limitations.