The idea of harnessing the power of the sun to supply energy needs has been ongoing for thousands of years. At one point, humanity could do little more than heat water and homes with the awesome power of the sun.
Today, literal space-age technology converts solar power into direct (and alternating) electrical current. The affordability of these innovations has made its way down from experimental uses to large-scale utility farms to consumer-grade functionality.
But how does solar energy become juice for lightbulbs? Read on to see the science at work.
Elements of Solar Power
The energy captured from sunlight is photons, not heat. Collecting heat from the sun is useful but doesn’t convert to electricity easily.
Conventional coal and oil power plants burn fuels to create steam and push turbines. To get that kind of heat from the sun directly would be unworkable.
Instead, photons are collected in panels, inverted to usable current, and then pushed into a home or battery.
Solar panels utilize the photovoltaic effect, not a thermal effect. Photons absorb into a silicon layer that is treated (typically with phosphorus and boron) to create positive and negative sides.
Once the electrons are free it works not unlike a lead-acid battery, the electrons flow from one side and get pushed to the other. This creates a current of electricity that is captured and modulated.
Current solar panels contain multiple cells that make up a module. Each module produces a particular voltage. Several modules make up an array and several arrays make up a single panel.
The current produced using solar power energy comes out in the direct current. This isn’t useful for your home and appliances, so it needs to be inverted before it becomes usable.
Inverters also smooth out the flow of the power so that the voltage and amperage are constant.
Older inverters collected and transferred power from all of the panels. Modern inverts, known as micro-inverters, perform this service on a panel-by-panel basis. This improves efficiency and stabilizes performance from one panel to another.
Once the solar power energy is captured by the panels and converted by the inverters it then goes into your home.
You don’t always need the power generated, and sometimes you need power at night when there is no sun.
A net meter keeps track of how much power is being generated by the panels and how much the home is using. The power you don’t need gets sold to the grid, acting as a credit against your power draws.
When you contact a company such as https://blueravensolar.com/virginia/ for installing solar panels, they will configure your meter and explain the local rates of kilowatt per hour.
When available, batteries store excess power for you. Batteries are less efficient than meters, as there is always some power loss in storage. However, if you experience a brown or blackout, a battery keeps your home running.
The specifics of how solar power gets from the sun to your outlet are complex and technical. However, the general flow from one component to the next is straightforward.
To learn more about tech innovations in your world, check back with us.