Solar energy may seem like a complicated process but it is easy to understand the basics of how it works and how it helps us every day.
1.) We start with the sun’s rays. The sun delivers more energy to the earth in one hour than the world consumes in one year. We recognize the sun’s energy well as heat on our skin when we are outside on a sunny day. Heat is the most common form of energy created by the sun’s rays and it is not difficult to harness this energy for electricity.
2.) Solar panels collect the energy from the sun. In order to capture the sun’s energy for electricity you need a semiconducting material, like silicon whose high absorption creates energy in the form of electricity. While silicon is a common material used in PV systems, it can lose some of the energy of the sun so PV cells are also made with metal. Metal is a better conductor than silicon and is used to help keep the PV cells from losing too much energy.
3.) A charge controller stores the energy for conversion. When the sun rays hit the silicon and metal PV cells, they energy turns into an electric current. The PV electricity isn’t in a form that we can use in our homes. First the PV electricity has to be converted into direct current, or DC electricity. (High efficiency items can use DC electricity but most appliances and other devices need AC energy, or Alternating Current. This is because DC power can only flow in one direction making it harder to use for the higher voltages in our homes and offices.)
4.) An electrical device called an inverter converts the energy. The inverter converts the energy from DC electricity to AC electricity which can be used to power a more universal array of products and devices. AC power can flow in two directions which makes it powerful enough for us to use for our daily needs.
5.) The power is directed from the inverter to the electrical panel or breaker box in your home or office. Once there, energy is sent to outlets and heating and cooling systems for regular use.