Lately, it seems the solar industry is walking on sunshine. Why? It’s because technology has finally caught up to make solar energy an affordable, everyday reality. But what is solar energy, and how does it work?
Here’s our brief guide that explains how solar-powered energy actually works in practice.
Why Solar Energy?
It helps to start at the top: why do we care about solar energy? The answer is that the sun is the source of the vast majority of energy on Earth. Solar energy kicks off the entire food chain in the form of photosynthesis in plants. Even fossil fuels couldn’t exist without the sun, because they’re derived from once-living things. So solar-powered energy takes us the right to the source of most of the energy on Earth. That makes it efficient and liberates us from relying on messy and finite secondary sources. We cut out the “middle man” and all its byproducts to tap the energy at the source. That’s what makes solar so exciting.
How Does Solar Powered Energy Work?
Harnessing the sun’s power isn’t easy, at least in the modern sense (humans have been using the sun’s energy for millennia, though). The technology to turn sunlight into electricity requires two major steps: collection and conversion. The solar energy collection process involves the most visible part of solar energy: the panels. These panels are made of something called photovoltaic cells, and panels are collected into arrays. The photovoltaic cells absorb light energy from the sun (composed of photons) and convert them into an electric field.
Once absorbed, the energy gets converted into consumable electricity. Excess energy is usually discharged back into the power grid or stored in batteries for later use. Solar panels range in size, from the tiny panel on a handheld calculator up to the vast fields of solar panels at the industrial level. At the residential level, they’re becoming more common and more affordable, with more people than ever investigating the price of residential solar panels (you can find out more about that at blueravensolar.com/blog/price-of-solar-panels/).
What About Cloudy Days?
One of the first questions many people ask about solar energy is: “what if it’s cloudy?” In some cases, anti-solar lobbies even use this to make strawman arguments against using solar energy. The good news is that solar panels work so long as there’s daylight. It doesn’t have to be glorious sunshine—if you can see, then solar panels can “see”, too. Solar panels can absorb any light energy on the visible spectrum (and some beyond it, too). Still, it’s true that solar panels are less efficient on cooler and overcast days. Yet solar panels can allow even a regular home to passively collect energy all year round, so this is hardly an Achilles heel.
Solar Powered Energy Explained
If you’ve been wondering what mysterious science lies behind solar-powered energy, then wonder no longer. With the light we’ve shined on the topic, you now understand the basics. Looking to keep your finger on the pulse of society? Check back often to see what’s new.