Solar energy is cheaper than getting the power directly from your utility company. Energy from the sun is free, does not produce carbons, and provides the same benefits as the electricity we are used to. In fact, you won’t notice any difference in your home. But how does solar energy work?
Now days, you receive your power from the utility company. It passes through a smart meter, which records how much you are receiving, and feeds your main service panel, which supplies your home through the circuit breakers.
How Does a Solar Panel Work?
A residential solar panel converts light to DC power. DC power must be converted to AC power in order to work in your home. This happens with an inverter, part of the solar installation. The conduit which carries the power being produced, and converted to AC, runs to the main service panel which supplies electricity to your home through the same circuit breakers. When you add solar to your home, a two-way circuit breaker is added to the main service panel which allows power to flow both ways.
At daylight your solar panel is producing power, the electricity from solar flows directly to power your home with whatever is needed at that moment. Quite often, your solar is producing more power than is needed in the home, and this is the best part. The excess power being generated is not lost! It flows through the two-way circuit breaker back to the utility. You can watch this happen at the meter. It goes backwards! And the best part is that the utility buys this excess power from you. They give you a credit on your bill.
When it gets dark at nights and you need power at home, here is when you get the power from the utility company. The difference now, if you have credits from the power you panels collected from sunlight during the day, you will get energy from you solar energy credits before you get power from you utility company.
For solar users, utility power acts as a storage bank for nay power panels have generated above customer needs. This is call net metering.
This arrangement with the utility for solar customers continues over a 12-month cycle. At the end of 12 months, you have a true-up day where you settle your account balance with the utility. If you have produced more power from your solar than you have consumed in your home, your credit is converted to cash and you receive the money. They buy the power from you. However, if your solar did not produce as much power as you consumed in the same amount of time, they will send you a bill for the difference.
Sunlight to Electricity
The process of converting light to electricity is not based on heat, but on daylight. One thing seems certain; the sun comes up every day. Even on cloudy days, or rainy days, or shaded locations, solar produces power. The amount of power however, depends on the intensity of the light. The more direct the sunlight, the more power is produced. That’s why solar designers like myself look for the best possible location when placing panels at your home. The ideal place is a southern exposure with no shade.
One of the major reasons people go solar is because solar is always producing power for you when there is daylight. When you are away from the home and not using much electricity, your solar is still producing power the same as any other day. This means when you are away on vacation, your solar is over producing what you need, so you are building up credits with the utility. You never lose the power your solar system makes.
Another major benefit is the low cost to maintain this conversion of light to power. Your solar expense is really paying for equipment, not operation costs. There are no moving parts to oil or maintain on a schedule. Just keep the panels free of dirt and debris for top producing efficiency. It is recommended that you wash the panels a couple times a year. Accumulated dirt acts as a filter which reduces efficiency and lowers your production.
Solar panels do degrade over time. They do not break, but they do produce less power each year. It is not a lot, but light causes the solar cell to degrade over time. A typical degradation factor is .08% per year. Most solar panel manufactures offer a 25-year production warranty, and use this degradation factor to determine how much power the panel is warranted for. A typical warranty would say that on the 25th year in service, the panel will be producing at 80% output of what it was rated to produce on day 1. Panels will continue to produce power beyond their warranty, but the amount of power reduces each year.