The sun is a constant and supreme source of energy that is just waiting to be tapped into. This constant radiation is an excellent source of energy that is both perpetual and reliable. The process of harnessing this energy for our everyday usage is called using solar energy.

Simply put, we collect solar rays and convert them into electricity with the help of highly efficient panels. But how? Read on, curious reader. We’ve got all the answers for you!

General Idea

The solar rays that the sun emits contain little packets of energy, which we call photons. These are actually what help to generate solar energy. When these photons strike a solar cell, the electrons present begin to lose their atoms.

Connecting conductors form an electrical circuit to a cell’s positive and negative sides. The free-flowing electrons through the circuit then generate electricity. This means that multiple such cells will form one panel; similarly, multiple such panels will form the solar energy system.

We can also say that having multiple panels should give you more energy. Thus, when these little packets are gathered and turned into electrical energy, we can reap the benefits of cost-efficient and eco-friendly energy.

What Are These Solar Panels Made Of?

What Are These Solar Panels Made Of?

So, what are these efficient panels built of?

These so-called photovoltaic solar panels are made from layers and layers of solar cells. These solar cells are made from silicon. Silicon is particularly chosen due to its photovoltaic ability to act as a semiconductor.

These are then layered, protected with a glass casing, and equipped with various wirings. Positive and negative layers for an electric field, like a battery. If you want to know more about the photovoltaic effect itself, here is a simple explanation as follows:

Photovoltaic Effect

Photovoltaic Effect

A photovoltaic effect is the characteristic of a material that allows it to convert solar energy into electrical energy. It was first discovered by Edmond Becquerel in 1839. This is the foundation on which solar panels operate. It allows the generation of electric current for certain materials when they are exposed to sunlight. This action is then limited within a photovoltaic cell and further collected.

How Do These Panels Generate Electricity?

The kind of energy that these solar panels generate is DC or Direct Current electricity. To understand DC energy, picture a set-up for a light bulb. You connect the panels and the lightbulb in a straight-forward circuit, and the electrons flow in one direction around the circuit. They will move from the negative side of the battery to the positive side and light up the bulb.

However, most devices need AC or Alternating Current electricity in the USA. The difference is that while DC promotes a direct flow, the electrons periodically switch directions in AC.

This type of electricity was chosen due to its affordability while storing and transporting long distances. This means that we need a third element to help make the conversion to utilize this solar energy. This is when a solar inverter comes in.

What Is A Solar Inverter?

In layman’s terms, the task of a solar inverter is to create conversion. The solar inverter collects all the DC electricity the panels produce and converts it into AC electricity. While it seems to sport such a simple functionality, without it, there is no usable solar energy. It converts and helps provide adequate ground fault protection and system stats. This covers the voltage and current on these AC and DC circuits, total energy production, and maximum power point tracking.

Previously, central inverters were widely used. However, now micro-inverters have been somewhat of a technological breakthrough. As the name suggests, they are very small and can thus be assigned to each solar panel. This allows for maximum optimization and ensures that each panel can perform to the maximum capacity. Furthermore, with central inverters, a problem with one panel affects the entire system. But with individual micro-inverters, this is no longer an issue.

How Does A Solar Panel System Work?

Now that we have understood all the elements of a solar panel system, it is time to put them together. A solar panel system consists of the obvious stars: the sun and the solar panels, and an inverter. Once the solar rays hit the solar panels, the panels convert energy to DC current. This current then flows into an inverter that converts the DC electricity to AC electricity. And just like that, you get solar power at your home. It truly is this simple and efficient. If this system has already amazed you, wait until you hear about the benefits of net metering!

What Is Net Metering?

How Net Metering Works?
Image Source: Sunkalp

In a typical solar grid system, you are bound to get more energy than you need. As these panels are left outside all day, diligently gathering solar energy, you might have wondered if some of it gets wasted. Well, this is when net metering comes in.

You must be aware of something called a utility meter. Your energy provider generally uses this to measure the total supply of power used in your house. Your solar panels will also be connected to the same panels. This is how you can monitor the energy generated by these solar panels. Any excess energy produced goes back to the grid if you have net metering. You can exchange this extra unused power for credits on your electricity bill.

That’s not all! Let’s say, on less sunny days, there might be a lack of proper solar charging resulting in a shortage of energy production. Well, there is no need to be concerned as the credits will help you draw extra energy from the same grid so that you are never left without this energy. A net meter, thus, is a record of the energy sent compared to the energy received from the grid.

This is especially beneficial to people who are completely dependent on solar energy and are worried about cloudy days. This helps provide a solid backup against bad weather and nighttime and should address all your concerns about going solar.

How Long Do These Solar Panels Last?

Solar panels last for a very long time. They usually come with lasting warranties of up to 25 years. While the rated lifespan is about 25-30 years, they will generally serve you much longer. They are built quite sturdy and don’t wear out easily. Most will outlast their warranties by decades.

Some studies about photovoltaic degradation rates confirm that at the end of 25 years, your solar panels are most likely still functioning at 88% of their full capacity. There is no reason not to bet on the reliability of such an effective energy system.

How Much Maintenance Do Solar Panels Require?

The maintenance required for these solar panels is pretty low. They will require just occasional dusting and clearing of any debris or snow. However, the inverter is likely the only part of this system that might need regular replacement. If your system is equipped with micro-inverters, they come with a nearly 25-year lifespan, so it should add to a hassle-free build.

Wrapping Up

The use of solar energy has become widespread due to its convenience in terms of function and affordability. There has been a 70% reduction in solar energy costs, and this, along with the net metering, ensures that the whole process is as easy as ever. With technological breakthroughs such as micro-inverters, you can be sure that the developments in the field of solar energy have only just begun.

(Last Updated on November 4, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Nina Howell is a Rewenable Energy researcher and consultant based out of Houston, Texas Area. She earned her Master's Degree in Energy and Earth Resources from Austin Jackson School of Geosciences in 2010, and a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 2008. Nina has been working in the energy sector since 2011. She worked as an Energy Supply Analyst from 2011 to 2017 in Bounce Energy and then as a Research and Energy Consultant at GE Renewable Energy from March 2017 to February 2020 . Nina is a mom of 2 beautiful children who are joy to her life. She strongly believes in eco-friendly living and is vocal about renewable energy, environmental issues, water crisis, and sustainable living.