How do we keep this site running? This post may contain affiliate links — the cost is the same to you, but we get a referral fee. Compensation does not affect rankings. Thanks!
Did you know that an average residential solar panel system can reduce carbon monoxide emissions by more than 200 tons each year? What an incredible impact just one home can have! Here, we explain the process by answering the question, “how does a solar panel work?”
What Is Solar Energy?
Simply put, solar energy is radiant energy emitted by the sun. But today many people use the terms “solar energy” and “solar power” interchangeably, referring to solar panels, photovoltaic (PV) cells (cells that convert the sun’s radiation into DC power), or energy derived from solar power. Solar energy is the most abundant and cleanest renewable energy source available. Today’s modern technology harnesses solar energy for many uses, including generating electricity and heating water for domestic and commercial use.
Solar Energy Facts
Before we dive into explaining how solar panels work, here are some enlightening facts about solar energy and solar power.
- Every hour the sun beams more than enough energy to satisfy the world’s energy needs for an entire year; however, solar technology produces less than one tenth of one percent of global energy demand.
- Solar energy helps complete the Earth’s natural water cycle. The earth, oceans, and atmosphere absorb solar radiation. As temperatures rise, warm air rises from oceans causing convection. When this warm air rises to higher altitudes, clouds form and bring rain water back to the earth.
- Green plants convert solar energy into chemical energy through the process of photosynthesis. This process creates the biomass that contains fossil fuels.
- The U.S. is the world’s number two leader of renewable energy, just behind China.
- Solar panels first hit the market in 1956, and space programs were one of the first industries to use solar panels to power their space crafts.
- Rebates and solar energy credits can offset up to 90% of the cost of a residential solar power system in some areas of the U.S. Be sure to check local city and state opportunities.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels are made up of many PV cells that link together. Each PV cell contains two layers of semiconductor materials, similar to materials in computer chips. When sunlight hits the cells, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. As these electrons flow through the cell, they generate direct current (DC) electricity. Each solar panel houses an inverter, which converts DC power into alternating current (AC) electricity and allows the solar panel to power your home’s appliances and electronic systems.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
Residential solar panel costs have dropped nearly 45% since 2010, and many solar panel companies offer leases or purchase power agreements that cost you $0 down. Home supply stores, like Lowe’s and Costco, also sell solar panel kits that can save you a ton of money. Some states, however, require you to use a certified company to install the panels (and you’re responsible for getting all the necessary permits).
Check out this video by THE LIST to see an excellent overview about solar panel savings.
How is Solar Power Growing in the U.S.?
The U.S. solar market is set to grow 119% in 2016 alone. The residential solar industry is booming, with more companies offering solar panel systems for homes in a growing number of states. Eleven states currently offer incentives and rebates in addition to the federal tax credit mentioned in the video above. Want to find a reputable company in your area? Check out our best solar panels on the market comparison to help get you started.
Why do you think so few people are using solar energy?