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Solar Energy 101

Solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy through photovoltaic (PV) panels that concentrate solar radiation. This energy can be used to generate electricity or be stored in batteries.

Diagram of how solar panels work

Step 1: Sunlight Activates Panels

Solar panels are comprised of many small photovoltaic cells constructed in a layer of silicon and glass casing surrounded by special film and wiring. When sunlight hits the cells the energy from the light, in the form of photons, is absorbed, knocking loose a number of electrons, which then drift freely in the cell. The cell is designed with positive and negative charged semiconductors to create an electric field. This electric field forces the drifting electrons to flow in towards the conductive metal plates that line the cell. This flow is known as an energy current.

Step 2: Energy Gets Converted

The solar panels have transform sunlight into DC electricity, but the electricity that powers most homes is AC electricity. DC electricity can easily be converted into AC electricity using an inverter.

Step 3: Converted Electricity Powers Your Home

Once the solar energy has been converted from DC to AC electricity, it runs through your home's electric box. It works exactly the same way as the electrical power generated through the grid by your electric utility company, so nothing within the home needs to change. Also, you still remain connected to your traditional power company, so you can automatically draw additional electricity to supplement any solar shortages from the grid. From there, electricity is dispersed through your house by wires in the wall.

By using a solar battery, energy from the sun or the grid will be stored and used when the solar panels aren't producing enough electricity, or when the power goes out.

Extra: Net Metering

When your solar energy system has a surplus of energy, your utility company will give you credits on your electric bill for any power you sent back to the grid. This is known as net metering.