How Do Solar Panels Power My Home?

October 17, 2023\Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Solar power is a growing energy source for American homeowners, as evidenced by the increase in usage over the last several decades. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, at the end of 2022 in the U.S., over 113 gigawatts (GW) of solar power was installed compared to around 95 gigawatts the previous year. What is a gigawatt?  A gigawatt (GW) is simply a measure of power, and there are 1 billion watts in a gigawatt, 1 million watts in a megawatt, and 1 thousand watts in a kilowatt.

A recent survey found that 8% of American homeowners have a solar panel system installed, and 39% have seriously considered having one installed. The National Solar Trade Association, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), predicts that by 2030, solar could supply 30% of all electricity generated in the United States. This boom can be attributed to factors like falling prices for solar components, improved solar panel technology, improvements to the electric grid, more government incentives, and increased weather events that drive homeowners’ desire for greater energy resiliency.

So, what does all of this mean for homeowners?

As interest in solar energy solutions grows, and more panels are installed on homes across the country, American homeowners seek to understand exactly how energy is produced from their solar panels. In this article we discuss how solar power works, from the fundamental technology to the components that constitute a full solar energy system.

Photo Credit: Titan Solar Power

How Solar Energy is Produced

The sun emits enormous amounts of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation carried to Earth as particles of sunlight called photons. These photons are captured by the solar cells on the solar modules which turns them into a usable current.  

This process of converting photons into an electric current is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect. When photons from the sun encounter the solar cells, they excite electrons into motion, forming an electric voltage. Metal attached to the solar cell allows that voltage to drive a current into a circuit, creating usable electricity. This process is the chemical and physical foundation behind solar photovoltaic technology.

Makeup and Function of Solar Panels

Solar cells are individual parts of the larger solar module or panel. About 95% of cells are made from silicon, a substance able to absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. Two specially treated silicon layers in PV cells create an electric field where the two layers meet. This captures the energy and results in electric voltage. Metal contacts in the form of wires, plates, or printed finers connect the PV cell into a circuit allowing that voltage to generate electrical current. The electricity produced is then routed to an inverter that changes the electricity from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current), the type used by North American homes.

Components of a Solar Panel

A typical solar panel comprises of six key components: an aluminum frame, tempered glass, an encapsulant (EVA), solar cells, a second encapsulant (EVA), and a protective back sheet. 

A solar panel frame and glass protects the inner components and support longevity and durability of the panel. An anti-reflective coating (used in all Silfab Solar panels), helps improve sunlight absorption. Solar cells are encapsulated by various thin sheets of polymer EVA that provide environmental protection to the cells and safety protection from the electrical circuits contained within. The glass, cells, and polymer sheets are laminated together and mounted in an aluminum frame. Most solar panels, including those in Silfab Solar’s series, are designed and manufactured to perform in variable weather conditions like hail and wind for over 25 years. 

Designing Your Residential Solar System

A complete residential solar installation or system is made up of other components in addition to the actual solar panels. Since solar panels produce Direct Current (DC) electricity, a solar inverter is needed to convert DC to AC. The AC electricity flows to the home’s electrical panel to power appliances and electronics through the home’s outlets.

An electric grid-tied solar energy system, (a system tied directly into the public utility grid) is the most common form of a residential solar system, as opposed to an off-grid system that is not attached to the power grid. In certain states homeowners of grid-tied systems can take advantage of net metering policies. Net metering means that excess energy produced by home owners’ panels is purchased or credited by the local utility. Ultimately, qualified solar installers will know the most up to date information about whether or not a particular region has this policy, as well as information about other financial solar incentives and ideal financing options.

An installer will also, of course, design and install the ideal system for a homeowner.

Residential solar systems can be mounted on the homeowner’s roof or on the ground. In either a rooftop or ground mounted system, the panels must be secured on a stable, durable structure called a racking system that can hold up in the face of wind, hail, and corrosion over the lifetime of the system. A fixed rooftop system is optimal when tilted south (to the Equator) to capture of the sun’s energy while ground mounted systems can be designed using a tracking mechanism that follows the sun as it moves across the sky. Many homeowners opt to add battery storage to their systems, allowing them to power their homes at night, when the grid goes down, or when weather events keep sunlight from reaching the panels.

Tapping the Benefits of Solar Power

Today it is possible to run an entire home on solar power, though the types of solar panels, additional system components, and installer you choose will help ensure you have a system of the right size working at maximum efficiency for decades. Understanding how solar power is generated, and the kinds of panels that make for an optimal system, is key to making the best decisions for your home energy needs. 

Investment in solar can be worthwhile as you enjoy a much reduced electric bill and join the many other Americans choosing energy independence, not to mention a reduced carbon footprint.

For more information on where you can buy American made Silfab Solar panels and to learn more about potential solar savings you can click here:

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