Solar Energy 101 – Solar radiation is light – also known as electromagnetic radiation – that is emitted by the sun. While every location on Earth receives some sunlight over a year, the amount of solar radiation that reaches any one spot on the Earth’s surface varies.
Solar technologies capture this radiation and turn it into useful forms of energy. There are two main types of solar energy technologies—photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP). You’re likely most familiar with PV, which is utilized in solar panels. When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel.
This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow. Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) systems use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat, which can then be used to produce electricity or stored for later use.
- It is used primarily in very large power plants.
- Solar energy technology doesn’t end with electricity generation by PV or CSP systems.
- These solar energy systems must be integrated into homes, businesses, and existing electrical grids with varying mixtures of traditional and other renewable energy sources.
A number of non-hardware costs, known as soft costs, also impact the cost of solar energy. These costs include permitting, financing, and installing solar, as well as the expenses solar companies incur to acquire new customers, pay suppliers, and cover their bottom line.
For rooftop solar energy systems, soft costs represent the largest share of total costs. Solar energy can help to reduce the cost of electricity, contribute to a resilient electrical grid, create jobs and spur economic growth, generate back-up power for nighttime and outages when paired with storage, and operate at similar efficiency on both small and large scales.
Solar energy systems come in all shapes and sizes. Residential systems are found on rooftops across the United States, and businesses are also opting to install solar panels. Utilities, too, are building large solar power plants to provide energy to all customers connected to the grid.
How does home solar power work?
How Does a Solar Panel System Work? – Here’s an example of how a home solar energy installation works. First, sunlight hits a solar panel on the roof. The panels convert the energy to DC current, which flows to an inverter. The inverter converts the electricity from DC to AC, which you can then use to power your home.
- It’s beautifully simple and clean, and it’s getting more efficient and affordable all the time.
- However, what happens if you’re not home to use the electricity your solar panels are generating every sunny day? And what happens at night when your solar system is not generating power in real time? Don’t worry, you may still benefit through a system called “net metering.” * A typical grid-tied PV system, during peak daylight hours, frequently produces more energy than one customer needs, so that excess energy is fed back into the grid for use elsewhere.
The customer who is eligible for net metering may receive credits for the excess energy produced and can use those credits to draw from the grid at night or on cloudy days. A net meter records the energy sent compared to the energy received from the grid.
- Read our article on net metering and how it works .
- Adding storage to a solar system enhances those benefits even further.
- With a solar storage system , customers can store their own energy on-site, further reducing their reliance on grid electricity and preserving the ability to power their homes in the event of a power outage.
If the storage system includes software monitoring, that software monitors solar production, home energy use, and utility rates to determine which power source to use throughout the day – maximizing the use of solar, providing the customer the ability to reduce peak-time charges, and the ability to store power for later use during an outage.
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