How Does Solar Power Work

This page addresses and answers the question how does Solar power work? It is solar power that what gives us and everything on earth life and has done so for billions of years, but we've only been converting it into electricity through photovoltaic solar power for a few decades. The technology is still young but the industry is growing by almost 50% a year meaning that everything in this field is changing rapidly including how it all works.

Before stepping into the world of Solar power for yourself either in an effort to save money, actually make money or just doing your bit to save the planet, it is a good idea to get a little background info into how all this solar stuff actually works.

This page is not intended to go into the technical aspects of how solar cells work simply because for 99% of us it doesn't actually matter. On this page you can find the all basics along with answers to many frequently asked questions about solar power.

So here we go with basics...

Light to Electricity

The generation of electricity from sunlight is not much different to any other energy conversion. Take oil for example: Oil comes from dead plant life from millions of years ago. Burning oil gives us heat and thus energy or electricity. But where did all those plants get their energy from?... The sun! Solar power simply takes out the millions of years and the negative implications of extracting and burning oil but the result is the same: Electricity.

So how does solar power work? Well, light from the sun hits the solar cells in solar panels and through a photovoltaic process (which is explained in detail at the bottom of this page) turns the light into power

How much power?

The only two things you need to understand here is that a Watt is used for measuring a unit of electricity and a light bulb is something you use to light your house. So..

1 square meter of light coming directly from the sun has enough power in it to power ten 100 Watt light bulbs. Solars panels currently operate at about 13% efficiency (they only convert about 13% of the light into electricity) and thus produce 130 watts. Just over one light bulb of power.

I live in England where the sun never shines..

The solar industry in the UK has boomed over the last couple of years this is because of government initiatives and the fact that you don't actually need direct sunlight for solar panels to be an efficient way of generating power.

But I don't use light bulbs when the is shining..

It is a good point because not many people do but it brings us on nicely to our next point.

What to do with all that power!

Ok so here you need to understand that the power generated from solar panels is not that same power that comes out of your mains plug socket.

From you plugs you get 230 volts A/C (alternating current). From a solar panel you will get about 12 volts D/C (direct current). Without going to much into techinical stuff, basically without something called an invertor you can't plug solar panels into your mains.. but you can charge a battery.

But I can't run a light bulb off a battery..

With an inverter you can..

So I can plug my solar panels into the mains?

Yes of course you can, as Imentioned you simply need a small device called an inverter.

And what are advantages of that?

With an inverter you can actually sell power you don't use back to the national grid. By law the elecricity companies have to buy backyour power at the same rate as they charge you. In some countries the government offers grants for this as well. In the UK the government actually pays you for each unit of power you generate whether even if you use it yourself!

How solar power works in detail

So this not enough for you then. Well here is how does solar power work from a far more technical view.

So let us start our journey over a million years ago at the center of the sun. Several atoms fuse together creating photons which then take a million years to reach the surface of the sun. From here they are then hurled towards us at a rate fast enough to cover 93 million miles in just 8 minutes.

After this short journey they slam into the solar panels on your roof and into solar cells otherwise know as photovoltaic cells. The PV cells are usually made of semi conducint materials like silicon.

When photons hit these cells, the power is enough to knock electrons loose and small current causes these loose electrons to flow in one direction where join with electrons from other cells to make a strong current. It is this current that charges your battery and heats your water.

So now you know how does solar power work, now it is up to you to get your home into the 21st century. Think of solar power as your next home improvement and a potentially lucrative investment with massive advantages.

How efficient are solar panels

Modern solar panels differ greatly in efficiency depending on the manufacturer. Solar power efficiency has been standadised into 5 tiers in an effort to help consumers know exaclty what they are buying. Follow this link for more information about solar performance.

Most solar panels have an efficiency upwards of 14% in full sunlight which means that theyturn 14% of sunlight into energy. It may not soud much but it actually is when considering that lights bulbs operate at only 4% efficiency and plants are only about 5% efficient.

Go to solar power efficiency from how does solar power work for more information including detailed solar panel manufacturer efficiency information.

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