How do solar panels work

As the costs of running your household continue to soar, you might want to consider alternative sources of energy. Residential electric rates have increased substantially during the past few years. Compounding the problem is the seeming instability of utility companies. For example, people living in California several years ago were treated to "rolling blackouts" as consumers' use of electricity spiked. As a result, widespread outages occurred during the months when power was most needed. That's why many people have begun looking toward solar panels to provide a reliable (and cheaper) source of electricity and power. In this article, we'll describe how solar panels work so you can determine if installing them is the right solution for your household.

Electricity versus heat

To understand how solar panels operate, you first need to familiarize yourself with the different forms of solar energy. When most people think of solar panels, they neglect to consider the form in which that energy is distributed. Solar power can be used to create electricity or heat. The generation of both types of energy is based upon different principles. While thermal principles dictate the creation of solar heat, photovoltaic principles determine the creation of electricity. Solar panels can be used to generate both.

Basics of solar panels

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are used to generate electricity. The PV cells within the panels are constructed of the same material found in semiconductors: silicon. The silicon is charged with electricity through exposure to sunlight. The majority of PV cells are comprised of 4 layers of silicon. Each layer plays an important role. In order to properly generate electricity, electrons must be negatively and positively charged. Then, they must be collected and routed through special circuitry to produce electricity.

The PV cells' top layer of silicon takes care of the negative charge. The bottom layer charges the electrons positively. When the PV cells are exposed to the sun's bombardment of photons, the negative and positive electrons are jarred loose from the layers of silicon and gravitate toward each other. Once collected, the electrons are converted into power.

What happens when the sun disappears?

Because the electrons stored and collected in solar panels require the photons released from the sun to generate electricity, an additional source of energy may be necessary; especially for those who live in areas that are frequently overcast. This is the reason many solar panel systems are connected to a power grid from local utility companies. During times when there isn't sufficient sunlight, this "grid-tied" system can generate the required electricity. If an "off-grid" system is used (that is, a solar panel system that is not tied to a utility's power grid), a high-capacity battery is required to store the energy.

The benefits of solar panels

Installing solar panels for residential use provides several benefits. First, it allows more independence from utility companies. While other consumers may experience sporadic "blackouts," your solar panel system is reliable. Second, after the initial investment for installation, the electricity generated from the panels is less expensive than that provided by utility companies. Third, the production of utility power increases our use of fossil fuels. This pollutes the environment. Using solar energy to generate electricity is far less damaging to the environment.

If you're considering solar panels for your home or business, you'll find that this alternative form of energy is less-costly, more dependable and environmentally friendly. For many people, it's an easy decision to make.