How do Solar Panels Work Anyway?

For most of us, electricity seems a little bit like magic: flip a switch and it’s there, mysteriously. We’re not going to go into all the technical details of electricity here, but we’ll give you a basic explanation of how solar panels create it. If it’s been a while since you had a science class on electricity itself, check out this simple explanation of electricity.

Solar panels work by first harnessing solar energy in individual solar cells, then transferring this energy to an inverter where it can be converted into usable electricity for your home.

#1 Solar Cells Capture Solar Energy

Solar Cells Capture Solar Energy

This photo clearly shows the individual solar cells which comprise a solar panel.

When sun shines on a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell, particles of the light are absorbed by a material like silicon, transferring the energy from the light to the silicon. Negatively charged particles of electricity (electrons) begin to flow through the solar cell. The cell is designed so that these electrons all flow in one direction, creating a current. Each solar panel is made up of a series of interconnected cells, and the panels are connected into a full array on your roof.

#2 Solar Inverters Convert the Energy

Solar Inverters Convert the Energy

This is what a solar inverter looks like. Usually these go in the garage.

The electricity created by your solar panels is “DC” or direct current electricity. Because the appliances in your house don’t run on DC power, an inverter is necessary to change it into “AC” or alternating current electricity. After that step, your solar power’s ready to use! Any excess electricity you don’t use will be sent back into the electric grid, and credited to your account for later use (depending on how your local utility works. See more on how solar inverters work.

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