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How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels work by harvesting the sun’s energy and converting it into electricity. Read more to learn how your solar energy system connects to your home and integrates with your existing electricity infrastructure.

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How Solar Panels Work

Solar panels work by letting photons from the sun’s rays knock electrons free from atoms inside of photovoltaic cells (pv cells) to generate a flow of electricity. Each panel is composed of many solar cells linked together (typically 60 or 72). Each cell contains a positive and negative layer that combine to form an electrical field in which energy is created.

Phosphorus inside the top silicon layer creates the negative charge, while boron in the bottom layer provides the positive charge. The two fields interact with one another to turn the sun’s rays into the energy that flows from your panels to your inverter.

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Solar panels work by letting photons from the sun’s rays knock electrons free from atoms inside of photovoltaic cells (PV cells) to generate a flow of electricity.

Phosphorus is added to the top layer of silicon, bringing extra electrons needed for a negative charge. The bottom layer is treated with boron, taking away electrons for a positive charge. These materials help to create an electric field where the two silicon layers meet. So when sunlight hits the photovoltaic cell, an electron is knocked free. The electric field then pushes the loose electron out of the silicon junction, creating energy.

Each photovoltaic cell (or PV cell) is made up of two slices of semi-conductive material, usually silicon. Just as batteries need a positive and negative charge to function, the PV cells have a positive and negative layer which together create an electric field. To generate this electric field, additional materials are added to each of the slices, adding a positive or negative electric charge.

Photons are released from the sunlight that hits a solar panel, knocking electrons free from atoms. This generates an electric current. Since solar panels are composed of many smaller photovoltaic cells linked together, the more panels deployed, the more energy you’ll generate.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

A Step-By-Step Guide:

  • Step 1: Sunlight Activates Panels and Cells Produce Electrical Current
    Sunlight hits the layers of your solar panels, and photons and electrons interact to create an electrical current.
  • Step 2: The Electrical Energy is Converted
    The electrical current flows from the panels down to your solar inverter, which converts the energy generated from your panels (DC) into usable energy for your home (AC).
  • Step 3: The Converted Electricity Powers Your Home
    The AC energy flows from the inverter into your breaker box, which will then circulate it throughout your home.
  • Step 4: Unused Energy is Stored or Potentially Returned for an Energy Bill Credit
    Any unused AC will flow back to your utility meter and remain available for consumption. In certain states, homeowners have the ability to return that unused AC back to the electric grid in the form of energy credits on their next power bill. This process is known as net metering in electricity generation.8

How Does Net Metering Work?

Net metering works to send any extra energy that your solar panel system produces back to the power grid, and you are credited for that energy at a 1 to 1 ratio (you get to sell it at the same price you buy it). Those credits can be used on future electric bills. Note that some utility companies do not offer net metering. Overall, this is a great incentive for solar energy use.

Learn How Net Metering Works

What Happens to Excess Energy?

To manage the excess energy, you can either store excess energy in a solar battery or use net metering to sell the energy back to the utility companies. During peak sunlight hours, your solar energy system can potentially produce more renewable energy than you need. Storing the remaining energy in a solar battery can help you have access to power during outages or allow you to power portions of your home during the night.

How Solar Panels Work FAQs

What Is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is light and heat from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. As a clean and renewable alternative to fossil fuels, it can help to reduce carbon emissions and other types of pollution.

Learn more about what solar energy is.

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How Do Solar Panels Work on Your Home?

Solar panels work on your home by converting photons from the sunlight into direct current, which then flows into your inverter. Afterward, your inverter translates the direct current into alternating current and sends the AC to your electric box to power your home. Your solar energy system is an efficient and affordable way to own your power instead of renting it from the grid.

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How Do Solar Panels Work With Grid Connections?

Solar panels work with grid connections by impacting your energy meter readings. If your home is connected to the grid, then you have an energy meter that measures how much electricity you use. With a solar panel system, you could potentially reduce your dependence on the grid connection by using stored energy from solar electricity or using net metering credits to lower your bill.

Learn more about how solar energy works with the grid.

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What is a Solar Inverter?

A solar panel inverter converts the direct current (DC) that your solar panels generate into alternating current (AC) to power your home. Solar inverters are similar to a translator. It translates solar energy into the type of electricity that can be used by your home. Solar inverters are installed with your solar energy system.

The Generac inverters we install communicate with your solar panels via PV Links. Those PV Links allow your panels to communicate with each other and deliver the maximum power under all conditions. If one of your panels is experiencing an issue such as shading, the PV Links allow the rest of your panels to still perform at the highest level.

Visit our solar education center to learn how to read your solar inverter.

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Why Do Solar Cells Need An Inverter?

Solar cells need an inverter because a solar inverter changes electricity from DC to AC to make solar energy usable in your home or business. When sunlight strikes the solar cells of your panels, the cells produce DC electricity which cannot be used to power your home’s appliances. First, it must be transformed by an inverter into the more commonly used AC that actually runs your devices.

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What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

Solar panels are made of a semi-conductive material, usually silicon. We use monocrystalline panels, which means they are made of a single silicon crystal. Monocrystalline solar panels are a more efficient product, generating more energy due to the single consecutive crystal.

Learn more about the most efficient types of solar panels.

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How Do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?

When sunlight reaches solar panels, the light is absorbed by the photovoltaic cells in the panels. These PV cells use that light to create an electrical field, which generates electricity usable in your home.

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Do Some States Get More Solar Energy Than Others?

Though sunlight is present in each and every part of the nation, some areas do receive more direct sunlight consistently throughout the year. Direct sunlight produces the most electricity, but indirect sunlight (such as sunlight passing through cloud cover) can also create electricity. You may require more panels or strategic placement, but we can make it work!

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Do Solar Panels Work In Cold Weather?

Yes! In fact, solar panels perform best in cool, sunny conditions. Excessive heat can excite electrons, making the process of generating electricity less efficient overall. Solar panels are at their top performance on cooler days with plenty of direct sunlight.

Learn more about how solar panels work in cold weather.

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Do Solar Panels Work At Night?

Solar panels actively produce electricity as long as the sun is out. That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to access your solar power at night. As long as you have a battery backup system in place, you’ll be able to make use of stored excess electricity.

Learn more about how solar panels work day and night to power your home.

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Do Solar Panels Keep Producing When The Power Goes Out?

If your solar panels are linked to the grid, your panels will not produce electricity when the power is out. However, with a battery backup system in place, you could access stored power during outages. Once power is restored, your solar panels will resume working as normal!

Learn more about how solar panels work during a power outage.

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The Most Efficient Era of Solar Panels Yet

Solar panels become more sophisticated every year. In fact, modern technology has ushered in the most efficient era of solar panels the world has ever seen. These new panels convert at an astonishing rate of 21-22%, which not only allows them to generate more energy for your home – it also helps you potentially save more money!

More efficiency and lower production costs paint a bright future for solar energy. According to a 2019 report conducted by the International Energy Agency, solar power could potentially make up 60% of new renewable-based power capacity across the globe within the next five years.

Simply put, solar is here to stay because it works. Request a free quote today to see how it can work for you.