The sun is 98.484 miles from earth, yet its magnitude in power is unsurpassed when solar energy comes into play. The photons zoom towards the earth at a blazing speed despite this distance, and with the anticipated effect that the sun will continue to shine, and relentless energy supply is birthed. The process of converting solar energy into electrical power that feeds several businesses and homes occurs through solar cells positioned in open sunlight.
The process began when Gerald Pearson, who started his research into lithium-silicon photovoltaic cells in 1953. His research has transcended through upgrades and invention, with efficiency maxing out currently between 11% to 15%. So, let’s discuss how this process works and some of the benefits of using this means to power our everyday needs.
What is a photon?
By definition, a photon is a particle displaying light or other electromagnetic radiation. These photons race towards earth via the sun and knock loose electrons in the solar cells the panels contain.
Solar cells contain conductors with positive and negative ends, and when connected, an electrical circuit is formed. This electrical circuit, then, in turn, generates electrical energy. But it takes many of these solar cell circuits to power the complexes they are attached to. So to keep it simple, multiple solar cells make a panel, and various modules can be connected together to form a solar array. So, in reality, the more panels, the more cells, which equates to more energy generated by the connected circuit.
What is the substance used to formulate solar panels?
Photovoltaic or (PV) solar panels are made up of silicon solar cells. Silicon is used because of its label as a semiconductor. Semiconductors are often used in electronics due to the fact that they act as conductors under some conditions and insulators in others. Since the solar cells are made with a positive and negative pole, it acts as a battery, generating an electric field.
How is the electricity generated?
(PV) solar panels perform (DC) or direct current flow of energy. With this form, photons travel around the cells circuit in a unidirectional fashion. For a mental depiction, to power a light bulb in your home, photons enter the solar cells and travel to the negative pole, to the (DC) powered lamp, only to ebb the cycle at the positive pole.
Contrary to (DC) current flow, there is an alternative method called (AC) or alternating current electricity. Under this mechanism, electron flow can be pushed or pulled in a bidirectional means in respect to one particular continuation inflow. Best put, it acts similar to a car engine pumping its cylinders as you mash the accelerator.
(AC) currents are also generated when generators containing coils of wire are spun in the presence of a magnet. In the case of generators, the fuel to power these machines are gas, diesel, hydroelectricity, solar, coal, or wind power, rather than harnessing the sun’s natural power.
Electricity in the United States and its relationship to solar energy
Thomas Edison was the inventor of the direct current, which was used as the gold standard in the United States in the beginning stages of the concept. However, there was a problem with controverting (DC) currents to higher and lower voltages.
Nikola Tesla believed the solution to this drawback was the alternating current. Currently, AC currents change direction about 60x per second in the USA and can be converted to different voltages virtually easier through the implementation of a transformer.
Selection of the (AC) current began in the United States when the company General Electric bid to electrify a the Chicago World’s Fair using Edison’s (DC) current for $554,000, though he lost to George Westinghouse, who claimed he could power the World’s Fair for only $399,000 using the orientation created by Tesla. The point was simple, it was cheaper to power one current system contrary to the rival over a long distance.
If the United States uses (AC) currents, and (PV) solar cells create a (DC) current, you might begin to see a problem. How is (DC) converted to usable (AC) energy? The answer lies in the inverter, which is used to transform (DC) to (AC).
The function of a solar inverter
Inverters take the (DC) system and transfer it to the (AC) current orientation. Along with inverting the current, they also provide other beneficial functions, such as providing ground fault protection and system statistics. It is inclusive towards (DC) and (AC) currents and voltages, generation of energy, and maximum power point tracking.
Central inverters have had heavy precedence in the branch of solar energy, as it provides a means to utilize the power made. But with the invention of microinverters, the process has become better. They are attached to each solar panel rather than the entire system, like with a central inverter. It allows the potential for each solar cell to facilitate at maximum throughput.
With central inverters, there can be many issues that can affect the amount of energy conducted by the system, such as dirty panels or modules in a shaded area, which pulls down the entire system’s energy generation. Since each solar panel has its own inverter with micro-inverters, one panel’s performance does not affect the other, allowing the maximum potential to be generated.
How does a solar panel system work on a grand scheme?
To cap off the article in summary or how solar panels work with respect to what has already been said, here is a brief rundown.
(1) Sunlight comes in contact with solar cells, located in the solar panels.
(2) The energy flows to an inverter, which converts the (DC) to (AC) system.
(3) The (AC) system is used after conversion, and the electricity powers things like the television in your home.
But what happens in common case-specific circumstances, like when the sun goes down at the end of the day, or you aren’t home to use the electricity being generated?
Have no fret, in most (PV) powered systems, there is an excess in energy made at the peak of daylight hours. This surplus is fed back into the grid and consumers, thereby gain a form of credit, which can be drawn from on cloudy days or nights.