Those big giant panels on the top of your roof or your neighbor’s roof are pretty cool, huh! You know that they are solar panels. You know they produce energy that powers and heats your home. You know that this energy is renewable energy and comes directly from the sun’s rays. But do you know how they work?
Let us explain:
How Solar Energy and Solar Panels Work
Solar Panel Science
Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. The most common type of solar panel is called a photovoltaic (PV) panel. PV panels are made of silicon, a material that is found in sand. When sunlight shines on the silicon in a PV panel, it creates an electric field. This electric field pulls electrons free from the silicon, and those electrons flow through wires as electricity.
The electricity produced by solar panels is direct current (DC) electricity. If your home needs alternating current (AC) electricity, you can either use an inverter to convert the power from DC to AC, or you can store it in a bank of batteries for later use.
Solar Panel Energy Usage
The average rooftop solar panel will put out about 200 to 300 watts of power, which is the equivalent of one or two light bulbs. If you have enough panels on your roof and in a sunny area, you can get all the electricity you need for your home from your solar panels.
The more electricity you use, the more power your panels will produce. On average, a typical 3-bedroom home uses about 15 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per day. The solar panels required to provide all the power for such a home would be 7 to 8 square meters in size and mounted at a 20-degree angle facing south.
This is about enough electricity for 5-6 average US homes! That’s one heck of a solar panel system right there…
Since the sun doesn’t shine all the time, you’ll need more than just panels on your roof to provide power through cloudy days or at night. You can get power from your utility company when you don’t have enough power from the sun. Or, if you can afford it, you can store your solar power in a battery bank for use throughout the day and night to power lights, appliances, and other devices.
Did you know you can actually go “off-grid” with solar panels? Off-grid means you do not have access to the grid and are living in a remote area. If you are off-grid, you likely want more independence from utility companies then off-grid might be the right choice for you. Off-grid systems usually consist of a large photovoltaic array (panel) or array of panels, a battery bank (or several), an inverter (to convert the power from DC to AC), and other components. These systems are great for powering your home or cabin, but they are also good for community centers, kiosks, small stores in remote areas, etc.
So, when you look at those solar panels on top of another house or on a business building, don’t just think “wow that thing is cool” think about how much energy is needed for such a big building and how the solar panel systems help to provide that energy!