Understanding the Science of Solar Energy: How It Works

Blair thompson

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Solar Energy

It’s estimated that 6% of the United States population currently relies on solar energy. Thanks to the many benefits and tax incentives offered, more people are turning to solar than ever before.

However, there are still a lot of misunderstandings surrounding how solar works. Indeed, even many of the people who own systems don’t get the science of solar energy. That’s why we made this guide.

In it, we’ll be discussing how solar panels can convert sunlight into a usable form of electricity, as well as some common misconceptions surrounding solar energy.

That way, you can decide whether or not this revolutionary form of alternate energy is right for you.

What Energy Does The Sun Give Off?

Before we learn more about how solar panels create electricity, we first need to discuss the specific type of energy that the sun gives off. The photons that are needed to power our appliances come to us from radiation sent down from the sun.

See, the sun is constantly undergoing nuclear fusion reactions deep within its core. This is part of the reason why the sun is so hot. Now all of that energy needs to go somewhere.

So it’s projected out into space in the form of electromagnetic radiation (aka EMR). From there it travels until it can reach something that either absorbs it or reflects it (in this case, earth).

Now it’s important to remember that electromagnetic radiation doesn’t hit the earth evenly.

That’s why some parts of the planet are warmer than others. Depending on where they lie on the axis, certain areas on Earth might not receive sunlight during large portions of the year.

The Photovoltaic Effect

The electromagnetic radiation in sunlight contains a lot of photons. When these photons interact with atoms, they knock electrons on the atom loose. This in turn sets them into motion.

And, as you probably learned in science class, when electrons flow, they can create electricity. Solar panels are designed to capture this electron movement and transform it into a usable form of energy.

This is known as the photovoltaic effect. Here’s how it works. First, the sun lands on the solar cells. This causes the electrons they contain to begin flowing freely which creates raw energy.

When the electrons make their way down the junction that lies between two panels, they turn into a current of electricity. This is then captured by metal plates and wires. This is a form of DC electricity.

How Does the Energy Get to Your House?

We’ve learned about how solar panels can take raw energy from the sun and transform it into DC electricity. Unfortunately, DC electricity can’t be readily used by our home’s HVAC systems and appliances.

So how does it get into a more usable form of energy? The answer lies in a solar inverter. As the DC electricity makes its way down the electric wires, it will reach a solar inverter.

This converts it into a form of AC electricity. From there, this form of electricity makes its way to all of the electrical outlets in your house.

Assuming your home is still connected to the power grid, any excess electricity will be sent there so it isn’t wasted.

Don’t worry! As we’ll discuss in the next section, net metering programs can help ensure that you’re compensated for this.

Is Solar Free?

There are also some misconceptions about understanding the economics of solar power. As the resource notes, many people mistakenly describe solar energy as free.

While it’s true that no one owns the energy coming from the sun, harnessing solar energy isn’t free. It requires specialized raw materials and carefully constructed electrical components.

As such, anyone who tells you it’s free is just trying to sell you something. That being said, once you invest in a solar system, you will begin to take advantage of free electricity.

Now whether or not this can cover your entire electric bill will ultimately depend on the size of your system. However, at the very least it can offset it.

If you produce more electricity than you need, you can use net metering to send it back to the power grid. In return, you’ll receive energy credits on your next bill.

The Benefits of Solar Energy

One of the biggest benefits of solar energy is that it substantially reduces the output of greenhouse gasses. If more people adopt it, then it greatly helps the environment by lowering our collective carbon footprint. However, there are also practical benefits for homeowners.

First, there’s the cost-saving element. You’ll spend less money on your electricity bill and in many cases, you might be able to wipe it out entirely.

It also greatly increases your home value since buyers are interested in inheriting a solar system.

Lastly, there isn’t a spot in the United States that can’t benefit from it. Even places like the Northwest that get a lot of cloud coverage still produce a lot of electricity.

How to Find a Good Solar Provider

We recommend starting on Google to find a list of qualified solar installation providers in your area. Qualification is an important caveat here. Make sure they have all of the appropriate licenses and experience to work on this type of project.

One way you can confirm this is by quickly scrolling through some of their reviews. This will give you a much better idea of what the average person thinks of them.

Once you have one or two options on your side, bring them out to your property for a consultation. Pay close attention to how they treat you and their specific recommendations for your set-up. Then, go with the option you feel best about.

Appreciate Learning the Science of Solar? Keep Exploring

We hope this guide helped you learn more about the science of solar energy. Remember that as a homeowner, you don’t need to learn all the ins and outs behind the photovoltaic effect (unless you’re interested).

As long as you have a base understanding of the principles, you’re ready to invest in a new system. Want more solar technology content? Keep exploring our extensive site.

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