How Does Solar Energy Work To Produce Electricity

Solar energy is as simple as getting warmed up in the sun and it is as complex as installing and using solar panels for generating electricity. Photovoltaic cells are the components in solar panels that transform the sun’s energy into electricity. Basically, moving photons are used in creating electric current inside the solar panels.

Solar panels collect light and turn it into usable electricity, as you know. What you may not understand, however, is that the electricity truly comes from photons produced in the center of our sun zooming their way to our atmosphere as light particles. And they sure do carry a lot of energy: they only require about eight minutes to shoot from the sun to earth, which is a 93-million mile trip.

When these photons make their approach to your photovoltaic panels (solar panels), they have been found in what is basically a glass and silicon sandwich, with added chemical “condiments,” if you will. The extra elements, like boron and phosphorus, are picked because of their positive or negative charges, respectively, since silicon is neutral. And, simply to clarify, a negative charge means that there is an additional electron someplace in the atoms’ outer bands along with a positive means that there is an empty spot for one or more added electrons there.

What occurs when the photon smashes its way into this mixture is that an added electron from the silicon-and-phosphorus negative bond, and this electron makes its way around to the silicon -and- boron positive compound. As more and more electrons travel in this fashion and are separated, electricity is created when the wiring that was attached begins sucking in these free-range electrons. This, consequently, ends up powering all of our electronics at home.

how solar works

1. Sunshine

Rain or shine, the sun’s rays hit our earth each and every day. Energy coming from the sunlight is not only plentiful but it is also free and renewable.

2. Solar Panels

Solar panels are made of photovoltaic cells. These cells convert sunlight into direct current electricity. As long as rays are hitting your roof, rain or shine, your panels are converting solar radiation into DC electricity.

3. DC to AC

Being that direct current electricity is similar to the power you get out of a battery, it is not the same power that runs through power grids. So in order to get the kind of power that you need to turn the lights on in your house, you’ll need an inverter to convert the power from your panels into power for your home.

4. Inverter

An inverter, or multiple inverters, take the DC electricity produced by your solar panels and turn it into alternating current electricity (AC electricity). Inverters are usually installed on the exterior of your home or in your garage.

5. Your Homes Electrical Panel

Your inverter will connect into your homes main electrical panel and provide it with power. Solar electricity from your inverter flows to the electrical panel, and then into to your home where it powers your lights and appliances. Or, if you generate more solar energy than you use, it will flow back into the electrical grid.

6. Your Meter

Your meter is designed to record your energy usage. However now that your new solar panel system is now connected to your meter, it will not only measure the amount of energy you draw from the grid but also measure how much energy you push into it. So in simpler terms, when you use less energy than your system creates, you will get a credit from your utility company.

Types of Solar Energy Conversion

Basically there are two approaches for conversion of solar energy into useful energy. These approaches are solar thermal and photovoltaic.

Solar thermal

Solar thermal

Solar thermal approach utilizes the energy from the sun to generate heat directly. In this case, solar panels are used for collecting heat from sunlight and transfer it for a wide range of heating applications including water and space. Usually, this type of solar panels are placed in such a way that they absorb maximum amount of heat from the sun for the maximum period during daytime.

This type of system also contains tubing that circulates water. Usually, this tubing is also called solar thermal collector. In this indirect technique some anti-freeze liquid is utilized in place of water. This liquid is warmed by the sun, which is then transferred to water collected inside a tank.


The photovoltaic approach uses the sun’s energy and converts it into electricity. Photovoltaic cells, also known as solar cells are usually made from silicon materials and they function by absorbing the sun’s light and not the heat from the sun. This is different from the thermal approach. A solar panel usually consists of several of these photovoltaic cells working together. And, several solar panels are linked together to generate higher amount of power.

Direct and Indirect Solar Energy

There is another set of approach followed when it comes to using solar energy. It can be used either directly or indirectly.

Direct Solar Energy

Electromagnetic radiation is the process used in this approach where usable energy is generated from sun’s energy. Some of the leading examples of using direct solar energy are as following:

  • Generating instant electricity by using solar cells.
  • Solar thermal collectors where the dark surface absorbs sunlight and warms water.
  • Fibre optic cables fitted outside buildings for lighting purpose absorb sunlight.
  • Solar sails used in spacecraft for moving it using direct sunlight.

Indirect Solar Energy

In the indirect method, several steps are involved in converting sun’s light into useful energy. The best examples of this approach are as following:

  • Photosynthesis is one of the best examples of indirect use of solar energy. Plants transform the sun’s energy into chemical energy. And, this energy is converted into creating befoul, hydrogen and methane gas.
  • Wind turbines and hydroelectric dams get their energy from wind and rain caused by sun’s energy.
  • The ocean thermal energy is also indirect form of solar energy as it is caused because of the difference in temperature between the different ocean depths.

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