How Do Solar Panels Work Exactly? An Informative Guide

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With more than three million installations across the country, solar power has taken America by storm. Furthermore, 1 million of those installations have happened in the last two years.

The reasons for this surge in solar power are many, including energy independence, fiduciary benefits, and environmental activism.

But how do solar panels work? If you are considering buying or leasing panels for your home, having a basic grasp of how the system works is imperative.

In the following article, we'll break down some solar panel science and outline the benefits of solar panels.

The Pros and Cons of Solar Power

The big picture for most homeowners is that solar panels reduce your electricity bill, raise your home's value, and reduce your family's carbon footprint.

The drawback of solar is that it doesn't work for all roof types, and to maximize your investment; you need to buy the panels outright. This can be a pricey proposition.

You can lease the panels, but you won't see as great a return on investment, and you should be wary of doing so if you intend to move soon.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

The basic solar panel science behind today's technology was developed in 1839 by a French scientist named Edmond Becquerel. Becquerel designed the first PV or photovoltaic cell.

Today, the efficiency and energy generation capabilities of PV cells are many-fold stronger than the ones pioneered by Becquerel. Modern panels are mostly made of silicon mixed with phosphorous or boron. These elements help create the positive and negative elements of the panels.

When the panels are struck by sunlight, they are exposed to photons. These photons then knock electrons loose from the silicon. As the electrons try to travel from the negative-type silicon to the positive-type silicon, they are collected by a wire between the two sides.

The collected electrons then flow like a river from the panel creating electricity. At this point, however, the electricity is still unusable. This is because the raw electricity is in the form of direct current or DC.

Our homes run a form of electricity called alternating current, or AC. You transform the DC current through a piece of equipment called an inverter.

To the Grid

The AC current from the home solar panels then flows to a meter connected to the larger power grid of your community. According to the FTC, most homes with solar panels generate about 40% of their power independent of the utility company. However, this output can vary depending on where you live. (For an example of regional results, visit

The meter will actually flow backward if you are generating more power than you are using. This difference is often paid back to the homeowner in credits from the electric company. This is net metering.

A hybrid form of this arrangement involves some of the power heading to a central battery so that the home draws on the stored energy when the sun goes down.

More to Consider

You've just learned how do solar panels work, but you may not have learned if your home is right for an installation. To completely evaluate your home's suitability you should call for a professional consult.

A licensed solar panel installer will tell you how many panels you need, if your roof can handle the load, and supply you with an estimate on pricing. With this knowledge in hand, you'll know if solar panels will work for you.

Did you find this article informative? Search this website for more on energy efficiency and solar power.

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