The sun does more than just providing Earth with light during the daytime. Every photon (or particle of sunlight) that reaches us contains energy to fuel our planet. The sun’s energy is the source responsible for all energy sources on Earth, and for all our weather systems. Today, solar energy is the most abundant and renewable energy resource in the world, and the United States has some of the richest resources. Enough solar radiation hits the surface of the planet each hour to meet our global energy needs for almost an entire year.
What Is Solar Energy?
Solar power is energy from the sun that’s converted into thermal or electrical energy. Solar is a replenishable resource that does not emit any greenhouse gases after installation and once operational. It’s one of the fastest growing and most inexpensive sources of power in the world, and with improving solar technology, will continue to spread rapidly in the coming years.
How Can We Harness Solar Power?
According the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), there are three primary technologies by which solar energy can be harnessed:
- Photovoltaics (PV) – Generate electricity directly from sunlight by electronic means, and can be used to power anything from small electronics (like calculators) to homes and large commercial businesses.
- Concentrating solar power (CSP) – Uses heat from the sun (thermal energy concentrated through mirrors) to drive utility-scale, electric turbines.
- Solar heating and cooling (SHC) systems – Collect thermal energy to provide hot water and air heating or cooling.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
Solar cells are usually made from silicon, which is a semiconductor that can generate electricity. This process is called the “photovoltaic effect” (or, PV effect). This is not a new technology by any means. Alexandre Edmund Becquerel observed the PV effect as early as 1839, and scientists examined the PV effect through the early twentieth century. In the U.S. Bell Labs introduced the first solar PV device to produce a usable amount of electricity in 1954. Four years later various small-scale commercial and scientific applications were using solar cells.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels absorb sunlight with photovoltaic cells to generate direct current (DC) electricity. Using inverter technology the panels convert the direct current to usable alternating current (AC) energy, which then flows through the home’s electrical panel and is distributed accordingly. Below is a step-by-step look at how solar panels work:
1. Sunlight energizes the panels
For greatest effect, the panels are grouped into an ordered series (or a solar array) on rooftops or in large outdoor spaces (i.e. in a solar farm generating community solar). The solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, absorb sunlight throughout the day while the sun is shining
2. The PV cells produce an electrical current
As mentioned above, each solar cell contains a thin semiconductor wafer produced from two layers of silicon with opposite charges, one positive, the other negative, forming an electric field. Sunlight striking the photovoltaic cell energizes the cell, causing electrons to ‘come loose’ from atoms within the semiconductor wafer. The electric field surrounding the wafer sets those loose electrons into motion, and the motion creates an electrical current.
3. The electrical energy is converted
The electricity generated during step two is classified as direct current (or DC) electricity, which is not the type that powers most homes—homes use alternating current (or AC) electricity. Through the use of an inverter, DC can easily be transformed into AC electricity
4. The converted electricity powers your home
After the sun’s energy has been changed from DC to AC electricity, it runs through your electrical panel and into the home, powering your appliances in exactly the same way as electricity generated through the grid by your electric utility company, so you don’t need to change anything within the home.
Solar energy is an extremely flexible energy technology: it can be built as distributed generation (located at or near the point of use, such as your home, for example) or as a central-station, utility-scale solar power plant (much like traditional power plants). Alongside other technologies like wind power, solar plays an important role to transition the United States to a green energy economy.
Kiwi Energy’s Energy Options
Now that you know the basics of how solar panels work, you may be interested in learning more about solar energy, or other alternative energy sources. At Kiwi Energy, we take pride in providing innovative energy options for our customers, including a community solar option through our partnership with Ampion Renewable Energy. We offer different plans so you can pick one that suits your needs. Find a plan that works for you and sign up for Kiwi Energy today.