Solar power 101: Solar made simple

Solar energy: you have heard of it, know it and recognize solar panels almost instantly. But do you truly understand it? Here is a quick look at what solar actually is and how the technology works. 

What is solar energy?

Solar is the most abundantly available source of energy that comes from the sun. It is nothing but light in the form of tiny energy packets called protons. The light that reaches earth every hour is to produce enough solar power to meet global energy requirements for an entire year, theoretically. 

What is a solar system?

A solar energy system is the technology that converts the sun’s energy into another form of energy, such as heat or electricity. The two key kinds of solar systems are photovoltaic (PV) solar systems, which convert sunlight to electricity directly with the help of semiconductor material (usually silicon), and concentrated solar power (CSP) systems that first convert sunlight to heat, before using the heat to generate electricity.

What are the components of a solar system?

While this may vary slightly depending on the usage, a PV system usually contains solar panels, inverter, battery, array DC disconnect, breaker panel and charge controller. 

What is a solar panel in a PV system?

A solar panel is the most easily recognizable part of the system. They are installed either on the roof the building or mounted on the ground. The panels are made of solar cells which are themselves composed of layers of silicon and boron alternately. These act as the negative and positive layers to create an electric field similar to batteries. 

There is a glass exterior that protects the silicon. The panel has a layer for insulation and a protective back sheet, which protects against heat dissipation and humidity inside the panel. Rise in temperature will lead to a decrease in efficiency, therefore the insulation is an important part of the panel. Solar panels have an anti-reflective coating that increases sunlight absorption and allows the silicon cells to receive maximum sunlight exposure.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels absorb the sun’s energy and generate DC (direct current) electricity. This means that electricity flows through one direction of the circuit. 

Silicon solar cells are generally manufactured in two cell formations: monocrystalline or polycrystalline. Monocrystalline cells are made up of a single silicon crystal, whereas polycrystalline cells are made up of fragments or shards of silicon. The mono cells are usually considered more efficient. 

What happens to the DC electricity generated?

The DC electricity is converted to AC with the help of the inverter. The AC current can be used to power loads in homes or commercial buildings, remote traffic controls, telecommunications equipment, oil and gas flow monitoring, RTU, SCADA, and many more.

What happens to the unused electricity generated?

It flows through the gross-meter and goes back to the grid. 

What are the benefits of going solar?

Apart from the benefits to the environment, solar can also help cut down electricity bills. The initial investment is also low with government subsidizing solar drastically and the falling costs of panels. Solar is also dependable and the electricity cost of solar remains the same for the lifetime of the system.