How Solar Energy Works – A Helpful Guide

The sun is a very consistent energy source. It is there day in and day out, providing millions with a reliable and clean source of power. But how exactly does solar energy work, you may ask. In this article, we will be answering that exact question simply and concisely.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

To begin, let’s look at solar panels, the main component of a solar energy system. During any given day, the sun shines 3 x 1026 watts of energy and about 1.74 x 1017 watts strike the earth. This means for about every one square meter (or about 10 square feet of earth’s surface), one kilowatt of energy is received. So that means your average backyard swimming pool (48 square meters/ 516 square feet) will receive 288 kilowatts of energy on one day over a 6-hour time frame. That’s about 10x the energy an average US household needs in one day! The only issue is not wasting this energy, but rather how to collect it for direct usage. This is where solar panels come in to help harvest this energy.

The following is a good video by LiveScience that explains how this takes place:

How Do Solar Energy Systems Work?

Perhaps you’ve heard a friend or family member talk about a solar system they recently installed and the amazing benefits they were experiencing. It’s true, solar energy does indeed present amazing benefits for you, your wallet, and the environment. But these savings don’t just magically happen. There is some incredible technology in a solar energy system that is making this possible.

With that being said, let’s take a look into this infographics of a typical residential grid tied solar system.

graphic of solar power generating process
  1. The photons in sunlight hit your solar panels, knocking electrons loose from atoms (see video above). These electrons are then collected and transferred along the wires running from your panels. This is known as a DC (direct current) electricity.
  2. The solar inverter, another prominent piece of a solar energy system, is responsible for taking this DC electricity and turning it into AC (alternating current) electricity that can be used in your house.
  3. This AC electricity is then taken into your home and used by your home’s appliances and lighting.
  4. One of the benefits of a grid tied solar system is the ability to put extra AC electricity back out on the grid. This AC electricity can then be used up by other surrounding homes, and you will receive a credit (or payment) from the utility company. This is known as net metering.
  5. During nighttime or stormy weather when your system can’t produce electricity, your house can still pull electricity from the grid as needed.

And that right there is solar 101. See, it wasn’t as bad as you thought, was it? The truth is, solar energy systems are not rocket science. They are pretty straightforward and easy to understand. Now, the next step in your journey of solar education is to learn about the different types of solar energy systems: grid tied solar, off grid solar, and grid tied with a battery backup. We have some helpful pages that explain these different types, so you should be good to go!