Solar Power for Beginners

How Solar Power Works. Many people understand the word solar has its root meaning as "the sun." But harnessing the ability of the sun to generate power in our homes may seem like an out of this world concept. So here is the simple explanation of how solar power works.

Lets start with the definition of Photovoltaic. Photovoltaic (PV) simply means electricity made from the sun. It's derived from the word "photo" which meant "light" in ancient Greek, and "Voltaic" means voltage. Easy peasy.

What do photovoltaic solar panels do? The solar panels convert sunlight (not heat) into electricity. Photovoltaic solar power converts the sun’s energy into electricity. Solar cells, or photovoltaic cells, are silicon-based pieces of material that absorb the sun’s light – not warmth as in a thermal application. Solar energy excites the electrons in the solar cell and electricity is produced. Solar cells are combined in solar panels, and groups of panels are linked to produce greater power.

So what's an inverter do? Well it doesn't sit at home alone and practice social distancing on a regular basis. That's an introvert. An inverter converts the DC electricity into 240-volt Alternating Current (AC) electricity suitable to power appliances in your house. Pretty cool, eh? We've already mentioned your house getting power! So lets stay on that topic.

Power for your home! Your home uses electricity from the solar panels first. Then, if your electricity use is higher than the supply available from the panels, your system gets the extra power from the electrical grid. It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul. But in a good way. So you would never run out of power if there was a total solar eclipse that lasted for days. (Actually, they only last for a few minutes, but you get the point.)

Monitoring usage: How do you know how much electricity is being used and how much solar power is harnessed? A meter is used to monitor the electricity used from the electrical grid as well as the solar electricity your house supplies to the grid.

Excess energy: You saw that correctly. You could actually produce excess energy. I hope you are sitting down for this next sentence. If your solar panel system produces more electricity than you use, the excess electricity is exported to the electrical grid, and your meter spins backwards. Holy break-dance Batman! Yep, your meter goes back in time. Well, not really, but it does spin backwards. And that means you are now reversing the amount of electrical power you used. Wow, if we could only do this with age! Basically all of this translates to saving a heck of lot of money on your power bill.

And in the words of Jimmy Cliff, "I can see clearly now the rain has gone. It's gonna be a bright, bright, bright, sunshiney day." Anyone under 40 can Google those lyrics so they understand the reference.

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