The United States continues to make strong gains in the renewable energy market. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), approximately 2,387 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) cells were installed in Q1 2018. That’s the largest solar installation power of any quarter to date.
With solar becoming more efficient and more common, many homeowners are now considering it as an alternative form of energy. If you’re thinking about installing solar power in your home, though, you should familiarize yourself with the technology and how it works.
There are several different types of solar panels, each of which has its own unique characteristics. Most, however, work using the same basic principles.
Solar panels are made of PV cells, which are typically made of silicone. Like a battery, each panel has a positive layer and a negative layer, allowing it to create an electric field.
Solar panels work by collecting and converting sunlight into usable electricity. Sunlight consists of energy known as photons. As photons beam down onto the panels, it disturbs the PV cells’ electrons, knocking them off the atoms to which they were stuck.
Assuming the panels have conductors attached to the positive and negative layers, it forms a circuit. Electricity is then produced when the electrons travel through this circuit.
In addition to the panels, another critical component of a solar power system is a solar inverter. The electricity generated by solar panels is initially direct current (DC). This means electrons flow in a single direction, going from the negative end of the circuit to the positive end. Here in the United States, as well as many other countries, alternating current (AC) is the preferred type of electricity.
A solar inverter is designed to convert the DC electricity generated by solar panels into AC electricity. Also known as a PV inverter, there are three different types of solar inverters: standalone inverters, grid-tied inverters, and battery backup inverters. Standalone inverters are typically used in solar power systems where the inverter pulls DC electricity from batteries that are powered by solar panels. Grid-tied inverters are the most common type and live up to their namesake by being connected to the power grid.
That’s not the only function of a solar inverter, however. It also offers ground fault protection as well as readouts on energy production and voltage and maximum power point tracking.
This is just a brief overview of the inner workings of solar power systems. To find out more you can visit our “How Solar Works” page.