What Are Solar Panels and How Do They Work?


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably noticed the rising popularity of solar panels nowadays. These sleek devices are springing up on rooftops everywhere, with nearly half of all U.S. homeowners considering the investment.

But even if you’ve seen these panels in your area, it’s not always clear how they work. What makes solar panels anything more than simple roof decorations?

Whether you’re considering solar power for your home or you’re simply curious about the trend, here’s what you should know about how these devices work.

What Is Solar Energy?

The most abundant energy source on the planet, solar energy is energy that comes from sunlight. Because the sun is a natural nuclear reactor, it sends tiny energy packets (called “photons”) to the earth via sunlight. This means that over 173,000 terawatts (or trillions of watts) of solar energy strikes the earth at any given time, or over 10,000 times our total energy use.

Solar panels make use of this renewable energy by converting it into a power source you can use in your own home.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Solar energy works with the use of silicon solar cells, meaning devices that convert photons into usable electricity.

When a photon strikes a solar cell, some of its electrons spring free. Through a process known as the photovoltaic effect, a solar cell uses this separation to produce direct current (DC) energy.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels are made up of multiple solar cells wired together. These panels can be spread across the roof of a home, creating a large surface area that absorbs more solar energy and thus creates more electricity. However, solar panels need a full ecosystem of tools, beyond the panels themselves, to create energy.

Through the process above, solar panels generate DC energy—but if you’re based in the US, you may know that our electrical power grid uses AC electricity. As a result, solar panels for homes must also use a solar inverter, which takes the DC energy from the solar array to create usable AC electricity for resident use.

This usable electricity then goes to your switchboard, which distributes it throughout your home. If your home requires additional electricity, your switchboard will access it from your municipal power grid. If your solar panels create more electricity than your home needs, the extra power is sent into the grid to earn you a credit on your electricity bill.

How Much Are Solar Panels?

The average solar panel cost varies depending on a number of factors, from the type of solar panel installation to the number of panels. However, you can expect to pay anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 for them.

By reaching out to local solar panel installation companies, however, you can get a better sense of the price in your area. These companies may also be able to help you find federal or state tax credits and advise you about the sunlight exposure where you live.

Decide If Solar Panels Are Right For You

Depending on where you live, the hefty cost of solar panels can be well worth the initial investment. These devices often pay for themselves over time, and they make it easy to look out for both the environment and your wallet. Work with a local expert to make the right call for your needs!

For more of the key tips on how to take care of your home, be sure to check out our other posts!

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