How does solar energy make electricity?
Back then solar power was the domain of people like NASA with solar arrays on spaceships and predictions were that we would have holidays on the moon in the 21st century.
Well, that clearly didn’t happen but one thing that did was the progression and development of solar energy for the masses. Solar is growing and is becoming more and more affordable, many people have solar systems installed in their homes and, for the keen DIY’ er solar kits are available for self installation.
I actually installed my own solar panels at home – a step up from a 1970’s electronic kit. I got the panels and inverter from Amazon – if you’re interested in these things then you can see the kit that I used here on Amazon via this link.
One thing that I’ve found by using solar is that you will save money – they do work and when you look around you can see them popping up all over the place.
Which leads us to the question – how does solar energy make electricity?
Solar panels come in different forms, shapes and sizes. The actual style, shape, size doesn’t matter they all work in a very similar manner.
Solar panels are actually made up of lots of small solar cells. These cells, known as photovoltaic cells produce small amounts of electricity, but, if they are connected together, then their combined outputs can be considerable and enough to provide energy for houses, devices, boats, campers and lots more.
These cells are made from a type of silicon which is widely used in the manufacture of semi conductors – you may have heard of semi conductors before, they are used in integrated circuits, transistors, in fact in almost every electronic device made.
When light hits these silicon based solar cells, the light is absorbed by the silicon and a reaction takes place that generates a small current of electricity. Each individual cell is connected by wires to it’s neighbour, the voltage adds up and becomes useable and we are able to tap into that power.
Once the cells are connected together they are placed in a frame to protect them and are then covered with a transparent cover. You’ll have seen these panels on houses and other buildings.
Normally you’ll find more than one panel. Just like the cells inside them, the panels are connected together thus multiplying and increasing the power that is available for use.
Solar panels are always placed in areas that receive the most daylight. As the silicon reacts with the light to produce power, the more light that hits them, the more power that is produced.
So as much sunlight as possible is needed, although panels will make power in the shade as well, but generally the more light the better, this is why most panels are mounted on rooftops, away from trees and other sources of shade or obstruction.
So what next?
The cells have produced power, this has been linked up and we have lots of electricity coming from our panels. So how do we get access to it and make it available?
The electricity that comes out of our solar panels is direct current, normally at a low voltage of around 12 to 18 volts.
To make this power useable in our house some clever electrical wizardry has to occur.
The cables from the solar panels are connected to a device known as an inverter.
The inverter connects the panels to the mains supply in your home. It automatically changes the electricity from the panels into AC current, at a much higher voltage, that can be used in your home.
This means that the power that comes from the solar panels is fed directly into your house and you can use it to power your TV, fridge, toaster, in fact anything.
You don’t need to do anything, you don’t need to change any plug sockets or anything else. As far as your house is concerned it’s the same stuff that comes from the utility provider – and it is. The only difference is that it was generated on the roof, from solar panels.
Plus, if it is your house and your solar panel setup then the power hasn’t cost you anything. Boom!
So, the next time you see solar panels on a house, or a business, or the next time you drive past a solar farm, you’ll have a better understanding of what is going on and how the systems work.
Maybe, also, you’ll think about solar power for yourself.
And if you are handy at DIY, perhaps you too might install your own solar system for your house.
I did it, and if I can then so can you.
How does solar energy make electricity?