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Guide to Home Solar Energy Systems
How Solar Energy Works
The Solar Powered Future

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels can be an excellent choice for powering a home. By using solar energy technology, we can protect the environment's disappearing resources and save money on our electricity bills at the same time. If you're considering buying or leasing solar panels for your home, it's important to understand how solar power works so you can find the system that best meets your needs.

A solar panel works by collecting photons, which are light particles, and using them to push electrons off atoms to create electricity. If one looks closely at a solar panel design, one can see a collection of photovoltaic cells. Each one of these cells can convert sunlight into electric power, and the number of cells will depend on the size of the panel. The photovoltaic cells contain silicon, along with other materials such as phosphorous and boron, that provides each cell with a negative or positive charge. Also included in the solar power design are metal plates along the sides of the cells; these metal plates are conductive, and transfer the collected electrons to wires. From that point, the electrons are able to flow just like they would from any other power source. They travel through the wires and into a person's home through a meter, like they would from the power company, so the current can be properly regulated.

Types of Solar Panels

There are three basic types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film. Monocrystalline, or silicone solar panels, are the most expensive. These panels use rounded cells that are cut from a single piece of crystal silicone, resulting in evenly colored panels, typically dark blue or black. Monocrystalline panels typically last more than 25 years, and are considered the best option for roofs in non-shaded spaces.

Polycrystalline panels have cells that are fused together from several silicon crystals. The cells are square, taking up less space than rounded cells, but they are also less efficient. These panels have the same lifespan rate as monocrystalline panels, and because they are less efficient (12 to 14 percent return rate of electricity), they are also less expensive.

Thin film solar is the least expensive option. These non-crystalline solar panels are made by layering glass or steel with amorphous, copper indium, silicon diselenide or cadmium telluride. Because these solar panels are less efficient than crystalline versions, more are required to produce the same energy. Your rooftop will need lots of unshaded space because it will likely have to be covered with thin film solar panels.

Inside the home, solar power features are the same as standard power features. Lights, outlets, and systems that are powered by electricity all work the same way, provided that enough solar power is collected to properly operate those systems. Often, when a source of alternative power such as solar power is used, the electric meter actually runs backward. That indicates that there is enough power for everything the home needs, plus extra that is being fed back to the utility company.

Most homes do not run solely off of solar power all the time, and use a combination of power from the electric company and solar power. There are some homes, however, that have taken the benefits of solar power far enough that they have gone "off grid" and use only solar power for everything they do. This system works best in hot, sunny climates, where there is more of an opportunity to soak up sunlight for hours on end. The size and number of solar panels also matters, though, and it is possible to go off grid in cloudier climates with enough panels and a relatively low need for power.

There are a number of solar power benefits, which is part of the reason it is such a popular alternative power source. The savings each month by having a much lower power bill – or by not having a power bill at all – can truly add up. The solar panels are not free, though, and it can take some time before the monthly savings allow the homeowner to recoup the cost of the panels. Of course, using solar energy also helps protect the planet's natural resources, which can be another valuable reason to use solar energy technology.