How Does Solar Power Work?

Throughout the entire universe, scientists agree that there is no better example of energy than nuclear fission. We don’t have to look farther than our own solar system’s sun to see this process in action. Every single second within the giant ball of burning gas that is our sun, 600 million tons of helium convert into hydrogen, which then converts 4 million tons of matter into pure energy. The energy generated remains at the core of the gas giant for 10,000 to 170,000 years. Needless to say, people for all of history have been looking for ways to copy this process for limitless energy on Earth.

To date, the best we have at mimicking the sun’s energy is actually to use the sun’s energy through solar power. Though it’s not quite as simple as holding an appliance under direct sunlight, the energy that the sun puts out isn’t just freeform energy we can use. It has to be absorbed and converted into usable electricity for appliances, lights, etc. How does that process work? Here is a quick rundown on how we harness the power of the sun and convert it into usable energy.

The Steps to Converting Sunlight into Energy

Photovoltaic Cells

The first step in this process is to absorb the sunlight through what are called photovoltaic cells. Most people know them merely as solar panels. These aren’t just pieces of glass that you hold under the sun. There is a lot of intricacy going on with these panels, which feature multiple layers of PV cells that have a photovoltaic effect and actually absorb the sun’s energy. It doesn’t absorb the light per se; it absorbs the UV rays, which act as energy when it hits the PV cells, and this works the best when it’s a direct line with the sun’s energy. The sun’s energy output remains relatively constant, so the effects of the power from the sun in this regard has much more to do with the quality and functionality of the PV cells set up to absorb that energy.

Solar Converters

So, with the right PV cells, solar power is ready to be used as electricity, right? There’s another step here not to overlook. Once we harness the power of the sun, we have to convert it into actual electricity for use. This typically happens once a solar inverter, as part of a solar panel system, converts the power from DC (direct current) electricity from the solar modules into AC (alternating current) electricity. This conversion means we can use the energy to charge up a series of batteries, which are wired throughout the home like basic electrical components, thus used to provide the electricity people use in their day to day lives. It has to be converted and stored before use.

Flowing Electricity

 After this point, the electricity is flowing through the home, but it’s finite. For most solar panel setups, the power is only going to flow for as long as the batteries have a charge. The PV cells absorb the energy, the PV cells convert and charge batteries, and we use the battery power to charge electrical appliances. You can think of it in many respects, like a laptop or cell phone battery. It will give you plenty of power but need regular recharging. Some appliances go straight from the PV cells to the appliance, like some water heaters, but most systems charge up batteries to use to deliver the electricity.

Tracking and Sun-Facing Mechanics

 The better aligned solar panels are with the sun, the more power they can absorb and put out. This reason is why a lot of sophisticated systems will actually track the sun, though even these are basically useless at night. This requirement is also why many people who want solar setups in their home have to get themselves a lot of different batteries for their rigs, as they will need to rely on that battery power at night when the sun sets, while the next day the sun’s energy will recharge them.

The good news for people interested in solar energy is that there are companies out there who have a great handle on this and can come in and give you a solar panel rig that will get the job done for you and your family. Though it never hurts to learn a little about the process.

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