Each year, more and more rooftops are sporting shiny black solar panels that soak up the sun’s rays and convert them into usable electricity. How exactly do solar panels do this? And why is solar energy becoming so popular?
How Solar Panels Work
The sun is the most powerful source of energy available to us. Nuclear fusion reactions in the sun’s core are far more powerful than anything we could create here on earth. These reactions launch electromagnetic particles called photons into our atmosphere. We can see and feel evidence of these photons in the form of light and heat. Interestingly, these photons are not electric; to generate electricity, they need to come into contact with solar cells.
Solar cells are the 6×6” squares that make up a solar panel and are made primarily of a material called silicon. Other materials could be used, but silicon has a few things going for it that make it the preferred choice. First, it’s a semiconductor material that is especially sensitive to the effects of photons. Secondly, it’s the second-most common element on the planet (being a primary ingredient of sand), so collecting it is reasonably easy on the environment.
Plates of positively-charged silicon and negatively-charged silicon are laid together in each solar cell. When photons from the sun hit the cells, they disrupt the path of the electrons in the silicon atoms. The electrons are magnetically drawn to one side of the cell, where metal wires guide them to flow in a direct electric current (DC). When the current is changed to an alternating current (AC) using an inverter, it can be used to power electrical outlets. The electricity that can be generated by each cell is about ½ volt.
Since electricity flows in a circuit, the electrons eventually return back to the solar cells. When more sunlight hits the cell, the process begins again. This can cycle infinitely without “using up” or “wearing out” the electrons, making it a truly renewable energy source.
As long as there is sun, there is power. Now, as to how much access you have to the sun… that depends.
The Challenges of Collecting Solar Energy
While the sun powers our planet every day, it doesn’t provide the power evenly. Some parts of the globe bask in direct rays for most of the year, while the extreme poles are exposed to the sun for just six months – and only at an angle. Regional weather patterns can also play a part in how much sun exposure you receive. Places that are more prone to cloud cover, like Seattle or Buffalo, are not going to have the opportunity to harvest as much solar energy as cities like Phoenix and Fresno.
The amount of energy collected is also subject to the limitations of current technology. Some solar panels have a 40% efficiency rating — these aren’t available to the general public. Most residential panels that can be purchased by homeowners and business owners can only convert between 15-20% of sunlight into energy.
Why Solar is Still Worth It
Although those facts may seem grim at face value, the overall outlook is bright. Even with their limitations, solar panel systems are still capable of powering your home or business necessities. What’s more, if you own a solar storage battery system, you can save the excess energy that is produced on sunny days to use on stormy ones, at night, or even during a blackout.
For those who live in sunnier southern cities, the situation is even better. Communities in California have ideal conditions for solar power. Because of this, our rooftop arrays can be smaller and more economical. That’s why solar power is becoming increasingly accessible to Californians. And what a relief … we know that PG&E’s rates are notoriously high.
The inexhaustible nature of solar energy makes this one power source that will never be outdone. As engineers continue to develop increasingly efficient panels at lower costs, the clear advantages of switching to solar will be undeniable. We can expect more and more solar panels to pop up as people reach out to improve their standard of living while lessening their impact on the environment.
Are you ready to make the switch to solar? Synergy Power can help you. Fill out the contact form below and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.