How Solar Power Works
Stage 1: Sunlight
We all know the Sun’s light contains energy. We’ve been burned by it at the beach. It’s made our eyes tear up when we stared at it for too long. Certain materials such as crystal and silicon can actually absorb this energy — a property known as the “photoelectric effect” that causes them to absorb photons of light and release electrons.
Stage 2: Solar Cells
For most of us, this next stage is most easily explained as “magic.” A solar cell is a thin semiconductor wafer specially treated to form an electric field. It’s positive on one side and negative on the other and electrical conductors are attached to either side to form a circuit. This circuit then captures the released electrons in the form of an electric current.
Stage 3: Photovoltaic module (AKA Solar Panel)
A module is a collection of cells that are electrically connected to one another. These cells are mounted into a support structure or frame. These modules are designed to supply electricity at a certain voltage, such as a common 12-volt system. The solar power produced is directly dependent on how much light strikes the modules.
Stage 4: Creating usable solar power
Photovoltaic panels produce direct-current (DC) electricity, but most of us need AC (alternating-current) to power our everyday gadgets and lights. An inverter is therefore required to convert DC to AC. Don’t worry. It’s not a catch. Once set up, a solar system can cleanly and renewable power something as small as a light bulb or as large as an entire house or car.