Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular due to the fact that it essentially produces free energy without creating any pollution. Earth receives so much energy from the sun that solar power could theoretically meet more than 1,000% of the world’s current electricity needs. For this reason, solar is definitely something everyone should consider. The only issue is that a lot of people still don’t really understand how solar energy works. To help clear up any misconceptions, here is a full overview of exactly how solar energy is converted into electricity.

Understanding the Photovoltaic Effect

Most solar power systems work based on something known as the photovoltaic effect. Sunlight is made up of tiny energy particles known as photons, and it is these photons that allow solar panels to generate energy. When sunlight hits certain elements known as semi-conductors, the atoms in that element absorb the photons causing the atoms to release free electrons. These free electrons produce an electrical current that can then be captured and used as electricity. The vast majority of photovoltaic solar systems use silicon as the semiconductor for reasons we will discuss a bit later on. First, let’s look at how the energy captured by the solar panels is converted into usable electricity.

How a PV Solar System Works

When the sunlight is absorbed by the solar panel, the free electrons travel to the top of the solar cell. Since the electrons have a negative charge, this creates an imbalance between the top and bottom of the solar cell. As the top of the cell is negatively charged and the bottom is positively charged, this can create an electrical current when the two are connected in a circuit. One easy way to understand this process is to think about it in the same way as the negative and positive terminals on a battery.

The only problem is that the electricity created by the solar panel is direct current (DC) whereas your home is powered by alternating current (AC) energy. This means that the system must first convert from DC to AC before the electricity can be used. This is done by using a specialized piece of equipment known as an inverter. DC energy flows into the inverter, and it releases AC energy that is then directed into the building’s electrical system via a circuit breaker. The energy can also be transferred directly into the electrical grid depending on how the system is set up.

If the solar system has a battery, the electricity will be sent directly from the inverter to the battery. It can then be used to power any electrical devices as needed. Without a battery, any excess energy coming from the solar panels that is not immediately consumed by the building will pass back into the municipal electrical grid.

Each solar panel is made up of small individual solar cells. A typical residential solar panel usually contains 60 individual solar cells while commercial panels tend to have at least 72 cells per panel. All of the panels are then linked together to create a solar array that is wired directly to the solar inverter.

Why Solar Panels Are Made From Silicon

Compared to other semiconductor materials, silicon doesn’t have the best electrical generating capabilities. However, it does have a number of other advantages that still make it a great choice for solar cells. One of the biggest reasons is that silicon is the second most abundant element on the planet, which means that it is relatively inexpensive and readily available. It is also lightweight, non-toxic and highly resistant to corrosion.

One issue is that silicon and other semiconductors aren’t very good at conducting electricity. Although silicon has strong photoelectric properties, it can’t really conduct the energy it creates. To overcome this, the silicon inside the solar cell is mixed in with trace amounts of other elements like gallium, arsenic, phosphorous or boron which are much better electrical conductors. This allows for more free electrons to be created and better energy conduction.

Currently, the maximum amount of sunlight that the average silicon solar panel can convert into electricity is around 20%. However, there have been scientists that have been able to boost the efficiency as high as 40%, but these technologies are not widely available yet. While this may not sound like much, it is still far better than older solar panels that were typically only able to convert around 5% of sunlight into electricity. It is also worth noting that even coal and other fossil fuel power plants only have a maximum efficiency of around 30 to 50%.

How Much Energy Can a Solar Panel Produce?

On average, a typical residential solar panel can produce somewhere between 170 and 350 watts of electricity per hour. However, the exact amount can vary quite a lot depending on weather conditions and the region you live in. Cloudy weather will obviously reduce the amount of energy that the panel creates, but solar cells don’t actually need direct sunlight to produce energy. Clouds will usually reduce the overall energy the system creates by somewhere between 10 to 30%. However, on extremely overcast days, the system may not be able to produce any energy if the cloud cover is too thick for sunlight to penetrate.

Temperature is another factor that can impact how much energy the panel creates. Many people are surprised to learn that solar cells are actually much more effective in colder temperatures than they are in heat. In fact, studies have shown that the efficiency of a solar cell usually decreases by around 1% for every degree above 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Solar Thermal Energy Generation

There is also another type of solar energy known as solar thermal. This is primarily used for large-scale solar energy plants. Instead of capturing the photonic energy from sunlight, solar thermal works by capturing the heat from the sun and using it to generate power.

This is done by using an array of mirrors that redirect the sunlight onto one small area to create an immense amount of heat. The heat is then used to produce steam, which in turn is used to power a turbine to convert the heat energy into mechanical energy and produce electricity.

This type of solar energy generation is becoming increasingly widespread in many parts of the world. The primary reason is that it allows for much more energy to be generated in a smaller area compared to using photovoltaic solar panels.

Expert Electrical Services in Marshfield

If you’re in need of any type of electrical services in Marshfield, the team of master electricians at Crowe Electric is always here to help. We offer 24/7 emergency repair services, and we also specialize in a wide range of electrical services and equipment including backup generators, whole-home surge protection systems and electrical panel repair and replacement. When you choose us for your home’s electrical needs, you can be assured that the job is done correctly thanks to the five-year warranty we provide on all work we perform. We also offer complimentary second opinions, and financing is available for some services on approved credit. Give us a call today to learn more or to schedule an appointment.

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