Solar panels consist of photovoltaic cells. Their name comes from the Greek terms for light (photo) and power (volts). These cells convert sunlight (photons) to electricity (electrons). From simple solar calculators, to the huge photovoltaic arrays that power satellites, the basic principles generating electricity from the sun are all the same.
So, How Does Solar Energy Work?
Photovoltaic (PV) cells contain semiconductor materials usually made from silicon. When sunlight strikes the solar panel, some of that light is absorbed by the semiconductor material.
This process creates an energy transfer by stimulating the electrons found in the silicon. The panel channels these flowing electrons in a common direction which creates an electrical current.
The top and bottom of the solar panels contain metal contacts that the current is attracted to. The contacts are connected to wires which are used to channel electricity to your home through some special equipment.
There’s a lot more physics at work than I covered in this simple description. But you don’t have to know anything about the deeper scientific principles to using solar power in your home.
Here’s What the Typical Residential Solar Setup Looks Like
One or more solar panels are installed on the roof or somewhere on the ground where there is plenty of sunlight. How many panels you use depends on how many kilowatt hours (kWh) you want to generate.
Installing solar panels couldn’t be easier. If you can use a power drill, screwdriver, tape measure and a hammer, you have the skills you need.
You connect wires to the connectors on the panel and run those wires to a charge controller. This is a simple plug-in device that regulates how much electricity enters your home at any one time.
Then you connect the controller to an inverter. The inverter converts the incoming 12 VDC power to 120 VAC.
Finally, if you want to be able to store the generated power for later use, the inverter is connected to a series of storage batteries. These batteries are usually connected to your home circuit breaker panel.
That’s all there is to it. And don’t worry if some of these devices sound foreign to you. You can buy kits that come with everything you need. Converting to solar energy is a great family weekend project.