Solar 101 - Learn How Solar Power Work

Among the different Renewable Energy technologies, solar energy shows the most promise for solving the world's energy problems. Here are the compelling reasons why solar energy is the most viable:

  • The energy from the sun is abundant. Do you know that 1 hour of energy from the sun is enough to supply all of the world's energy needs for a year?
  • Cost has come down and efficiency has gone up over the years, making solar energy more affordable.
  • Solar is the cleanest form of energy and has no carbon footprint, helping to keep our air clean.
  • Help to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
  • Lots of rebates and incentives from government to ease the cost of owning solar.

On this page, I will discuss about solar power basics and other solar 101 information. After reading this page, you should have a good grasp of how solar power work.

Materials Used to Make Solar Cell

The most common types of materials to make solar cell are crystalline-silicon, amorphous-silicon and thin-film photovoltaics. Among the different materials, Crystalline-silicon PVs (both mono and polycrystalline) currently offer the highest efficiency, but also cost more.

How Does Solar Work - Understanding Solar Power Basics

A Solar PV (Photovoltaic) system is a power system that converts sunlight directly into electricity. The basic building block of a PV sytem is the solar cell. The solar cell is wired together to form a module and the module is then wired together to form a solar panel. Modules come in different sizes and typically has power output from about 20 to 300 watts in power output.

Manufacturers list the power output under "Standard Test Conditions" (STC). It is not the same as real world conditions, however. In actual real world environment, the energy produced is typically 10-15% less.

How a Solar Cell Work

Solar cells are solid-state semiconductor devices that convert light into direct-current electricity. These semi-conductors are most commonly made out of silicon, which are commonly used to make the computer chips.

In oder to make the silicon material conduct electricity, it must first be doped with Phosphorous and Boron. The phosphorous is doped on the top layer, giving it a negative charge. The Boron is mixed with the silicon in the inner layer to give it a positive charge.

Between these layers where they meet is the electric field called the junction. When sunlight (or photons) hits the solar cell, the photons are absorbed into the junction, which pushes electrons in the silicon out. If enough photons are absorbed, enough energy is created to push the electrons past the junction, and electrical flow is achieved. This electrical flowing current is in the form of DC.  See figure 1 below.

solar power basics diagram

How a Solar Photovoltaic Electrical System Works

In order for the solar electricity to be converted to AC electricity so that it is compatible with the appliances in your house, an inverter is needed.

If more power is generated from solar than it is needed for your power consumption, the excess photovoltaic power get fed into the utility grid. As a result, the utility meter will spin backward, essentially selling electricity back to the utility.  See figure 2 below:

solar power basics of grid tied solar photovoltaic home electrical system

Resources to help you learn more about building and installing solar panels

If you are interested in learning more about solar and how you can design, install your own solar panels, below are some great guides. Read more about it here:

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