A: Solar panels absorb the energy from the sun and then convert it to the inverter which creates energy. That energy goes back to the power grid and makes electricity.
When you think of energy sources many people think of coal, oil, and nuclear power plants. However, the largest single source of energy in the world is the Sun. At any given moment, the sun hits the earth with nearly 175,000 terawatts. For all you Back To The Future fans, that’s more than enough to send a DeLorean through time—no Mr. Fusion needed. All sci-fi fandom aside, that is more than 10,000 times the energy required to power the earth. The problem throughout the emergent years of solar energy technology development has always been finding a way to reliably convert it for use.
Quick History Of Solar Panels
Solar energy development dates back over a century ago. In its early development, it was used mainly to produce steam to power machinery such as saws at mills. However, the conversion of sunlight into usable electricity wasn’t possible until the photovoltaic effect was discovered in 1839 by French physicist, Edmond Becquerel.
This discovery would lead to Charles Fritts’ invention of the first solar cell in 1893. Formed by combining sheets of selenium with a thin gold layer, this cell would later bring about the first solar panel. Granted, this was a crude example of a solar cell compared to today’s panels—but it was the catalyst.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1941 that Russel Ohl, an inventor with Bell Labs patented the first solar cell made from silicon. This patent led to the eventual production of the first silicon solar panel manufactured of course by Bell Labs. Initially, solar panels were mainly used in space applications—namely on orbiting satellites.
For most consumers, however, their first experience with solar panels didn’t come until 1970’s calculators. Models produced by Teal, Sharp, and Royal utilized a small bank of solar panels to power the pocket calculators.
We’ve come a very long way since powering small calculators with solar panels. Today’s solar panels are vastly more powerful and expandable into full system arrays. These arrays of panels are used to power everything from RV’s to residential homes and even large commercial buildings.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
To avoid confusion with technical jargon—just think of the sun as a natural nuclear reactor—because it is. It’s constantly releasing small packets of energy we call photons. These photons travel over 90 million miles to earth in just under 9 minutes. That’s pretty fast.
When those photons impact a solar cell, they knock electrons away from their atoms. Conductors connected to the positive and negative ends of a solar cell create a circuit. When electrons flow through that circuit they create electricity.
But you can’t power a house with a single cell, hence, the solar panel—a panel made up of dozens of cells. Panels can be wired to each other to form what is called a solar array and generate more energy. The more panels you wire together, the more energy you will generate.
The earth absorbs enough photons in one hour to generate the solar energy needed to power the entire world for a year. The only catch there? Most of that energy isn’t being captured and converted to electricity. Currently, solar power only accounts for a fraction of a percent of all energy consumed in the United States. But solar panels are improving at a rapid pace and the costs are declining just as fast leading to steady growth.
In 2017, the International Energy Agency reported findings that solar panels had placed as the world’s fastest-growing source of power. This is huge, as it is the first time that solar energy growth has outpaced the growth of all other energy sources, even electricity.
Does Weather Affect Solar Energy?
Honestly, this is one of the most often asked questions about energy from solar panels—and for good reason. After all, if the sun is blocked by clouds, or it snows on panels how can they absorb solar energy right?
Well, weather can indeed have an impact on how much electricity solar panels produce—just not how you might imagine. Of course, the ideal conditions for solar energy production are clear bright skies and lots of sun. However, many electronic solar panels work better when they are cooler—solar panels are more efficient in cold weather. How is this possible? Well, as the temperature gets hotter, panels generate less voltage which lessens electricity production.
Although, just because they are more efficient when it’s cold outside, doesn’t mean they produce more electricity than on hotter days. Sunnier days usually coincide with summer months, especially in places like Houston and LA. There’s not only less cloud coverage, but the sun is also out for longer periods of time in the summer. So, while they run less efficiently in summer, they still produce more electricity than in winter.
Does Location Matter For Solar Panels?
It makes sense that people think that since cities like Houston or LA get more sun, they’ll get better performance from solar panels. So, if the weather can have an impact on the energy production of solar panels, is geographic location an important factor? The quick answer is yes, but not really because of the weather per se.
You know solar radiation can pass through clouds if you’ve ever gotten a sunburn on a cloudy day. Therefore, it’s clear that solar panels can still generate electricity even when it’s overcast outside. Now, depending on the amount of cloud coverage and the quality of panels being used, efficiency takes a small hit. However, even with the minor, 10-25% drop in efficiency on cloudy days—solar still saves you money. Homeowners with solar panels in cold and overcast locations like Seattle, San Francisco, and Baltimore still see amazing savings.
How Do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?
Solar panels generate DC (direct current) electricity. This means that electrons flow one way only around a circuit. However, the U.S. power grid uses AC (alternating current) electricity because it’s more economical to transmit it across the country through power lines. AC electricity differs from DC in that electrons are pulled and pushed—intermittently changing direction.
So, if the electricity your home is designed to use is AC, but solar panels produce DC electricity how is it usable? That’s where the inverter comes into play
What Is An Inverter And What Does It Do?
A solar inverter takes the DC electricity from the solar array and uses that to create AC electricity. Inverters are like the brains of the system. Along with inverting DC to AC power, they also provide ground fault protection and system stats, including voltage and current on AC and DC circuits, energy production, and maximum power point tracking.
Have More Questions About Solar Panels?
Of course, you do—we will periodically post more detailed information on solar energy questions from consumers. In the meantime, you can contact us for more information on a solar system for your home or business. We will gladly answer all of your questions, and give you a free installation and savings estimate.
Contact us today and make the smart switch to solar with Cali One!