How is Solar Energy Used to Generate Electricity?
Solar energy is so far the most reliable and cleanest source of renewable energy today. It can be very helpful and can be used in various forms to power your home and business.
Solar energy helps generate electricity through solar-powered PV (photovoltaic) panels to convert sun rays into electricity by igniting silicon cell electrons with the help of photons of light rays from the sun. This electricity is reliable and sustainable for powering your home and business.
Solar energy is at the forefront of renewable energies, and it is where a larger part of the world is heading. In this article, you’ll find out the process with which solar energy generates electricity, the uses of solar energy, and the step by step process of the conversion.
How is Solar Energy Used Today?
For a long time now, the world has depended on energy sources that aren’t just very expensive but also damaging to the earth.
However, the good news is that there are now numerous bodies fighting the battle to push out harmful energy sources like gas, oil, coal, etc. Solar energy is gradually becoming dominant, but how are they used today?
A solar PV system (solar panels) is usually installed on homes and businesses rooftops to generate electricity. These solar panels generate electricity for the property owner and take any excesses to the electric grid.
The solar battery, usually attached to the PV system, helps connect your solar energy system to provide you with power when the sun goes down.
It powers the EV overnight or transmits backup power in emergencies. However, note that not all PV systems come with a solar battery. Some property owners may decide to go off-grid using solar power panels coupled with a battery system or solar panels with a generator system.
Solar Water Heating
Solar energy doesn’t stop at providing electricity – it’s also helpful for water heating systems. Solar water heating systems are typically used to provide hot water in homes.
The solar water heating systems make use of a rooftop panel to absorb the heat from the sun and direct it to the water tank. According to the United States DOE (Department of Energy), the solar water heating system comes with a five to ten-year payback period.
Solar heating systems are used for generating power for radiant floors or pairing with FHA (Forced Hot Air) systems to help heat a home.
There are also passive solar home designs that can help heat a home or business during winter, depending on the selection of building materials and window placements of the building.
Solar ventilation systems like solar attic fans are very useful to lessen the burden on your HVAC by cooling your property when the weather is hot.
This is usually an excellent option if you aren’t able to install the solar PV system to offset your property’s electricity use. The Solatube solar attic fan is one of the innovative products available today for solar ventilation.
Solar lights are prevalent these days – starting from street lights, road signs, security lights to home landscaping. They are perhaps the most common form of solar power use.
Solar lighting innovations for homes are readily available and inexpensive from simple to high-end models. You can get them from your local store or even from online stores.
Solar transportation, when completely successful, would be a big win for the entire world. The earth has suffered from the toxic releases of energy sources we’ve been using for decades, which is why solar transportation is very important.
Although solar-powered vehicles are already a success in some countries, they are still futuristic in several places in the world.
For this reason, it is mostly referred to as the ‘future of transportation.’ However, solar energy can be used by those using EV or electric cars. They can charge their car’s solar battery using solar panels.
As a result of the internet of things, we are usually with our phones and tablets and sometimes complaining about low battery. Today, we have portable solar PV phone charges that can keep our mobile devices charged at all times.
It is an innovation that is birthed to integrate solar cells into mobile devices and has been used for watches for decades. Although many people don’t know this, Japanese researchers have developed water-resistant, lightweight solar cells that would one day be stitched into clothes to help power our devices.
Solar Energy: Step By Step Electricity Generation
Solar energy is the number one source of renewable energy, and it is important to understand the step by step process it takes to generate electricity.
Step 1: Sunlight Activates the Solar Panels
Each solar panel is built with a layer of silicon cells, a glass casing, a metal frame surrounding with a special film, and its wiring. The solar panels are typically arranged together in arrays and placed on the rooftop or in an outdoor space for effectiveness. The photovoltaic cells, also known as the solar cells, absorb light from the sun during the daytime.
Step 2: The Solar Cells Generate Electrical Current
Within each photovoltaic cell is a slim semiconductor wafer built from two sheets of silicon. One layer is negatively charged while the other is positively charged, creating an electric field.
When the sun’s heat hits the cells in the solar panel, it ignites them and causes electrons to come loose from the every single atom in the semiconductor wafer. The loose electrons are put in motion by the electric field. It is this motion that creates the electric current.
Step 3: The Solar Energy Converts to Electric Energy
Solar panels work excellently to transform sun rays into electricity, but the electricity it generates is known as direct current (DC) electricity. This type of electricity does not power all homes, which is the alternating current (AC) electricity.
The good news is that DC can easily be converted to AC electricity using a gadget known as an inverter. In the modern solar energy systems available today, electrical inverters can be configured as one inverter for the whole system or as an individual micro-inverter attached to the panels.
Step 4: The Converted Electricity Provides Power for Your Home
As soon as the solar energy is converted to AC electricity, it is channeled through the electrical panel and distributed within the house to power all electrical appliances. It works the same way all the time as the power generated from the grid from electric utility companies.
With this, nothing within the home needs charging. Also, if you’re still connected to your power company’s power grid, you can supplement your solar energy system in case of shortages.
How Can You Generate Solar Electricity at Home?
There’s so much technical information about how you can generate solar electricity in your home. While hiring a solar electricity system expert is the safest option, let’s look at how a solar system would work in your home.
You need to get your solar panels up on your roof or in an open outdoor space where they can get direct contact with the sun. These panels are what convert the energy from the sun through freed electrons to DC electricity. This current flows into your inverter and converts from DC current to AC current for use in your home.
When you purchase a solar electricity system – if you prefer to install it yourself – there is always a manual to guide you through both the installations needed for outdoor and indoor installation. It is not just clean and simple, but also affordable and efficient.
Another good news is that in a situation where there is not enough sunlight to generate power for you during the day and at night, you can rely on your net meter. Simply put, you can use the excess energy your solar system had produced when the sun was at its peak.
A fully-working solar electricity system connected to a power grid generates more electricity than a household can consume during the day. Then, the excess goes to the power grid and can be used later at night. But if someone else uses it, you get credit for it. If your system has been piling up power in the grid, you can draw power from the grid, when there is no sunlight.
How Can You Finance Solar Electricity for Your Home?
If you are looking to purchase a solar energy system for your home, state utility incentives and federal tax credits can help offset some of the initial costs.
There are also various options for financing available for you as a homeowner, such as Property Assessed Clean Energy Loans, Energy-Saving Mortgages, Home Equity, and the usual bank loans.
Even if you aren’t the owner of the property where you live, or you lack financing, you can still enjoy the benefits of switching to solar electricity. Your best options are solar leases, shared or community solar programs, and other power-purchase agreements that allow thousands of households to utilize solar energy.