How Exactly Does Solar Power Work?

By Shannon Lhotsky, Solar Consultant

If you are anything like me, as soon as a bunch of numbers and percentages get thrown in your face, you feel confused, pretty overwhelmed, and usually run in the complete opposite direction.

“But you’ll save X amount of dollars in X amount of years!”

“You can write off X, Y, and Z on your taxes!”

“Your energy bill will go down by THIS much each month!”

Ok, ok, this whole solar powered energy is just starting to sound like magic now, how can the sun that I’ve been staring at my whole life save me all this green? Isn’t it a big expense upfront? More confusion….

I’m here to break it down like Jay-Z for you.

The suns’ rays vary throughout the year because of the earth’s orbit around the sun. The ideal roof direction (think North, South, East, West) to catch majority of the suns light is a roof facing south. Of course there are other factors like shade from trees surrounding the roof, that play a role in the ideal amount of sunlight for solar power energy as well. But, more on that later.

Enter the solar panel. They are about the size of the top of a large rectangular coffee table. And they only weigh about 40 lbs, less than my Labrador at home. They are mostly black, with a thin white background surrounding 60 black square cells. (read more)

The cells are called Photovoltaic cells (or PV cells) and when sun shines they convert the sun’s energy into direct current, or DC electricity. Then an inverter changes the electricity into alternating current, or AC.  An inverter can be a big box on the wall or a bunch of small inverters (square boxes the size of your hand) located on the back side of the panel.  AC electricity is what powers your home. Cue your seventh grade Science class, thanks Bill Nye.

Before the electricity flows right into your light bulbs, heat and air conditioning, and outlets, that AC electricity flows first into your power meter. It is in the meter that your solar power is measured and fed back or drawn from the power grid, think power lines. In the end, solar power is literally replacing your old energy, which comes from dirty, foreign coal mines.

So to quote ole Bill Nye himself, “NOW YOUUU KNOW.”