Our ability to generate power has led to some pretty incredible advancements in society. Of course, as with anything else, there are downsides as well. The way we generate most of our power has hurt the environment and isn’t sustainable. One of the more prevalent alternatives that’s not difficult to apply to your own life is the use of solar panels. To find out why they’re a viable alternative, let’s look at how they work:
1. Here comes the sun.
The first thing to note here is that solar panels do not need direct sunlight in order to generate electricity. They won’t work at maximum capacity during cloudy or rainy days, but they don’t stop working entirely. When the sun is shining brightly, though, solar panels can convert up to 22% of the sunlight received. This number might seem dismal, but think about how much energy the sun gives off daily. In fact, it has been estimated that we could cover a relatively small patch of the Earth (say, the size of Spain) in solar panels and be able to provide energy to the entire world.
2. The photovoltaic effect.
The main action of solar panels is to convert sunlight, and it does this through the photovoltaic effect. Solar panels contain a layer of silicon cells, and when these cells interact with light, electrons start to move around which gets an electric current going. This is DC electricity, which means direct current. It needs to be converted to AC (alternating current) to be used by your home, which is what a solar inverter does.
3. Let there be light!
The converted electricity goes into your home and powers your appliances, even through the night. It does this by storing the energy either in a battery or in the electric grid. There’s a process called net metering where any excess energy you create goes back to the power grid, and this is kept track of by your utility company. You get a credit on your bill for the electricity you send back to the grid, which is just another benefit of solar energy.