How Does Solar Energy Work? A Step-by-Step Guide
Have you ever wondered how solar energy works? Solar energy is gaining popularity among homeowners as people seek to reduce their carbon footprints. While solar energy accounts for 3% of U.S. utility-scale electricity, the number is growing.
Solar panels have never been more advanced, as they have been developed to reach efficiency ratings previously considered unattainable.
Understanding how all of this works isn’t always easy. A solar energy diagram, for example, might be difficult to absorb at first glance, but it’s a lot easier to comprehend once you break it all down.
So, how does solar energy work? This step-by-step guide will answer questions like “how does a solar panel make electricity?” explore solar energy to electrical energy, and how to easily set up solar power at home.
How Does Solar Power Work? (For Dummies)
Most energy experts expect solar to become a defining part of America’s energy infrastructure in the decades to come.
According to the stats, experts predict 13.4% of homes will possess solar power systems by 2030, less than a decade away. Prices have come down dramatically, making solar panels far more affordable than they used to be.
If you want to learn about solar energy, follow this step-by-step guide for beginners.
Step One – Solar Panels are Mounted in an Appropriate Area
The first step is to install your solar panels. Different homes are better suited to solar energy because of the direction they’re facing.
Anyone in the northern hemisphere, which covers every U.S. citizen, should have their solar panels oriented toward the south. South-facing solar panels face the sun all day, providing maximum sunlight hours.
It doesn’t mean you can’t face solar panels at any other angle, but you’ll generate the most electricity if you have a south-facing roof. Talk to a solar panel installer to discuss the best possible solution for your home.
Installing solar panels may not cost as much as you think. Prices range from a few thousand dollars to $25,000 or more for solar arrays. The size and complexity will determine the rough cost of your home solar system.
Step Two – Solar Panels Capture Energy from the Sun
Your installer will group your panels into what’s known as an array to help you get the most out of your system. The next step in how solar panels work, step-by-step, is for your array to capture energy from the sun. Each panel contains a metal frame, glass casing, wiring, silicone cells, and a special film.
Solar cells are also known as photovoltaic (PV) cells. During daylight hours, your solar panels will capture energy emitted from the sun. Your panels don’t require blue skies and perfect visibility to function. Modern solar panels can collect energy even when it’s cloudy.
Step Three – Solar Cells Produce an Electrical Current
As previously noted, figuring out how solar energy is converted into electricity isn’t always straightforward. As a homeowner, each solar panel contains a thin semiconductor wafer between two silicon layers inside each solar cell.
One silicon layer is positively charged, and the other is negatively charged. Energy from the sun energizes the cell, causing the electrons inside to activate. The motion of the electrons causes the electrical current.
Step Four – Inverter Converts DC to AC
If you look at a “how do solar panels work diagram,” you’ll see that your solar panels have now converted solar energy into electricity, but it’s still unusable.
Solar panels initially generate Direct Current (DC) electricity. DC electricity cannot power most homes because contemporary households run on Alternating Current (AC) electricity.
Converting DC into AC electricity is relatively straightforward with a special tool called an inverter. Modern solar systems contain inverters to transform DC into AC electricity. Some systems may have smaller microinverters behind each solar panel. Both types of inverter function identically.
Note that if you’re one of those rare people whose home can use DC electricity, your installer won’t include the inverter.
Step Five – AC Electricity Powers Your Home
Your solar panels have successfully converted solar energy into AC electricity to power your home.
During the installation of your solar arrays, your installer connected the panels (and the rest of the kit) to your electrical panel. When your solar array converts DC into AC power, the electrical power is distributed throughout your home to power your appliances.
There’s no difference in how your home uses electrical power. It’s the same as the electrical power generated by your utility company. Due to how easy it is to make the transition, your installer doesn’t need to make any changes to your existing electrical infrastructure.
If you’ve opted for a grid-connected solar system, you’ll be able to draw upon conventional power if you’re experiencing solar shortages.
On the other hand, if you’re using an off-grid system, you’ll need a backup generator and an additional power source to provide an uninterrupted energy supply.
Step Six – Your Net Meter Manages Your Usage
Understanding “how does solar energy produce electricity?” is simple enough as a concept. Still, in practice, you must ensure your home can enjoy an uninterrupted power supply. Modern solar systems use a net meter to manage your usage.
Measuring your usage is essential for monitoring your carbon footprint, but it also allows you to record any surplus energy generated. Maintaining accurate records ensures your utility provider knows how much extra energy is going back into the grid.
Net meters manage how much electricity you’ve generated through your solar system and how much you’ve used. Households can sell surplus energy back to their utility provider, enabling them to create an extra income stream.
Most utility providers purchase extra energy from their customers through credits. You can use the energy credits to slash your energy bills when experiencing solar shortages at home. Many households in the winter months pay substantially lower electricity bills because of how much solar energy they can harness and sell to utility providers in the summer.
How to Pay for Solar Panels: Energy Transformation with Tax Credits
Homeowners researching the benefits of solar panels usually want to know how they’ll pay to install them at home. Solar systems require a significant initial investment, which may be beyond the reach of some households.
If you’re struggling to get the money together, help is available in the form of the federal solar tax credit. This federal tax credit has existed since 2006 and encourages Americans to invest in solar energy.
The Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has contributed to the growth of the domestic solar energy industry, creating thousands of jobs and helping Americans to lower their household carbon footprints.
The ITC was about to expire, meaning homeowners had limited time to take advantage of it. However, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law in August 2022, expanding the program.
Among the many provisions, the dollar value of the ITC increased, and its lifespan was extended. Anyone installing a solar system between 2022 and 2032 will receive a 30% tax credit.
Systems put in place in 2033 will be eligible for a 26% tax credit, and systems installed in 2034 will be eligible for a 22% tax credit.
If you already installed a new solar system in 2022, your tax credit has risen from 22% to 30% if you’ve yet to claim it. Unfortunately, you can’t backdate this tax credit, so if you’ve already claimed it, you can’t claim back the increase.
Start Saving on Solar from Day One
If you’re exploring “how does solar energy work?” this step-by-step guide hopefully covers everything you need to know and encourages you to consider installing solar panels.
If this is the case, paying for and installing your solar system is the next step. Choosing the right provider ensures you get an efficient system that provides a positive return on your investment in the years to come.
At EMT Solar & Roofing, our team specializes in installing high-quality, affordable solar arrays designed to save you money on your energy bills and contribute to a greener world.