How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar energy is gaining traction across the country for homeowners and businesses looking to reduce energy costs. Even cities are starting to switch over, with cities switching to solar power from Logan, Utah to Phoenix, Arizona. Solar power is a great choice for your home, and it all works because of photon energy from our sun.
What’s In A Panel?
Solar power systems are made up of several, key parts.
- The Panel: Solar panels are a sandwich of components that gather the sun’s energy. The top layer is a protective sheet of glass with an antireflection coating. This protects the cells while preventing sunlight from bouncing away and being wasted. Next comes a layer of photovoltaic cells. It’s their job to convert the sun’s energy into usable energy. The cells sit on a support layer called the substrate. The bottom-most layer is a backing that can be safety anchored to roofing or other supports.
- The Battery: If you have a backup battery system, the collected energy travels through wiring to a charge controller. It regulates how much energy flows to the backup battery and how much is diverted toward your household. When appropriate, the energy is sent straight to the battery to use as needed.
- The Inverter: Our households use a kind of current called alternating current, or AC. AC currents frequently change direction to regulate power flow. The sun’s energy is collected as a direct current, or DC, which doesn’t change direction. The inverter’s job is to change the DC current into an AC current for us to use in our homes.
- Your Home: Once the energy is converted, we can use it freely for our lights, electronics, appliances and more.
What’s in a Solar Cell?
The sun’s energy is made up of photons, an electromagnetic force. Electricity is a current of charged particles. Solar cells have to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. The solar cells we use for solar power in Logan and similar areas are the same type you see in calculators and even on satellites.
Solar cells use silicon for the conversation process. Silicon is a semi-conductor, meaning it insulates in most conditions to conserve energy but will conduct energy in the right circumstances. This makes it the perfect choice for applications like solar power. You can also find silicon in computer components.
Solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells, are made up of three key parts:
- N-type silicon: This silicon is mixed with trace elements to give it spare electrons.
- P-type silicon: This silicon layer is missing electrons, leaving ‘gaps’ in its structure.
- Positive and negative electrodes: These metal pieces collect the positive and negative electrical currents produced when the cells are active.
How Do They Work?
All solar cells work on the same basic principles:
- The sun’s photons hit the photovoltaic cells.
- The photon energy from the sun excites loose electrons in the cell’s n-type layer and starts the energy transfer process.
- Those loose electrons now need to be directed into a current. They’re naturally drawn into the gaps in the p-type layer below. This gives the top layer a negative electrical charge and the bottom layer a positive electrical charge. The cell has officially changed photon energy into electricity.
- The two types of electricity, positive and negative, are pulled toward their electrodes to be moved through the solar array and down into the rest of the solar system.
Are There Different Systems?
Solar power in Logan, Phoenix and other areas are virtually identical. Everyone uses the same basic set up of panels and inverters. The important choice you’ll make is how extensive a system you want.
Some people just want to power certain things, like their water heater, sprinkler system or appliances. Others want to power as many things as possible. Think about how much of your home energy use you’d like to take “off the grid.” The bigger the system, the more panels and the bigger the inverter you’ll need.
You’ll also want to consider if you want a battery backup. Backup batteries will kick in at night, on cloudy days and during power outages. Like generators, you’ll need larger batteries to power more household items.
Is It Worth It?
In 2015, the average American family used 10,812 kilowatthours (kWh) of power per year. An 8-kilowatt solar system could reduce about 80% of those household energy bills per year and while keeping 15,000 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere a year. That’s the equivalent of saving 800 barrels of gasoline.
Solar systems are exceptionally efficient in the sunny southwest. If you’re interested in solar power for your Logan City or other Utah, Arizona or California area home, give Sunpro Solar a call today to schedule your in-home estimate.