How Does Solar Power Work?
1) The Sun Generates Energy
Our sun is constantly generating energy through repeated nuclear fusion reactions that convert hydrogen to helium and mass to energy. Electromagnetic radiative energy particles called “photons” travel 93 million miles from the Sun to the Earth’s surface.
2) Photons Reach the PV Panel’s Solar Cells, Inciting a Series of Reactions
As photons reach the surface of the panel, they start to bombard and excite the electrons within the solar cells. Solar cells are designed intentionally to contain a positive and negative layer, creating an electronic imbalance that is important for the generation of electricity.
3) The PV Panels Generate Direct Current (DC) Electricity
The light activated electrons move from the negative layer to the positive layer, flowing around the circuit in one direction. This flow of electrons generates direct current (DC) electricity.
4) The Solar Inverter Converts DC Electricity Into Alternating Current (AC) Electricity
The U.S. Power Grid uses alternating current (AC) electricity, and therefore the DC electricity generated by the panel is not directly usable by the grid. A solar inverter is used to convert the DC electricity into grid compatible AC electricity. Unlike DC electricity where the electrons travel in one direction, AC electricity pushes and pulls the electrons, sometimes alternating directions.
5) AC Electricity is Used to Power Your Home or Business
Once the electricity is in usable AC form, it feeds into the circuitry, and is used to power your lights, appliances, and other electronics.
6) Electricity That is Not Used is Fed Back into the Grid (assuming the home is grid-connected)
Electricity generated in excess of the home’s usage is fed back into the system. This surplus energy is credited to the home, and is used at another time when the home is using more energy than it generates. This is referred to as net-metering, and allows the home to have a constant flow of electricity regardless of whether the solar panels are actively generating electricity.
The SunPower video below explains this process.