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How Solar Panels Work

December 12, 2018

It's only natural for anyone considering installing solar panels on their property to be interested in learning how exactly solar panels and a complete "solar system" works. The science behind solar power is extremely complicated, but anyone can understand the basics of how solar works if they give it a little time and attention.

At Sun Solar Electric, we can answer any questions you may have about how solar panels work or in regard to inverters, metering, battery storage, or anything else related to solar power. We can also equip you with the information you need to make an informed decision on which model/brand of solar equipment to invest in - and we can install for you a new system or upgrade your current one as needed!

For a free, no obligation consultation on all things solar related, or for a free quote, feel free to contact us today by calling 707-658-2157.

Sun Solar Electric is located in Sonoma, California, and we serve all the surrounding counties of the SF Bay Area.

How Solar Panels Work

Solar energy is our most abundant of all renewable energy sources. The sun is a power house located over 90 million miles away from Earth, releasing incredible quantities of energy in the form of photons. In reality, the sun is comparable to a nuclear power plant in the sky. Only, it poses no danger to life on this planet as do Earth-bound nuclear reactors. Instead, it is the provider of light and life to every living thing.

Even though there is more than enough solar energy hitting our planet every day to take care of all our energy needs, could we harness it all, less then one percent of US energy consumption today is from solar sources. However, use of solar continues to rise rapidly (especially here in California) as the cost of solar panels declines even as their efficiency continues to rise.

Most solar panels used in the US are of the photovoltaic (PV) type, so we'll focus here on how PV solar panels work.

PV solar panels are constructed from a number of solar cells, with each cell being formed from crystalline silicon. The cells are built in alternating layers of positive and negative charged silicon so that a natural electric field is created - basically, it's the same principle as used in most batteries.

When light photons strike the solar cells, they displace silicon electrons, and because conductors are connected to both the positive/negative ends of the cells, this displacement of electrons results in an electrical current which can be made to flow in a circuit. Thus, you have "electricity."

The more powerful and numerous the cells in a solar panel and the more pure sunlight exposure they get per day, the more power that can be produced by that single panel. Since all the cells are wired together, they work as a "team" and combine their total solar energy output into one stream of electricity.

Finally, we briefly mention that there are actually two types of silicon used in solar cells: mono- and poly- crystalline. Mono-crystalline silicon cells are more efficient in generating electricity, but they cost more. Poly-crystalline cells are generally not used on residential solar panels but only in the country or in locations where there's lots of open space, because you need bigger panels with poly-crystalline to match the efficiency level of smaller mono-crystalline panels.

From DC to AC Power

Solar energy is originally produced in what's called direct current (DC) power, wherein electrons circle a pathway all in the same direction: from negative conductor back to positive.

With alternating current (AC) power, the electrons actually move back and forth, "alternating" their direction. In the US, the power grid is on AC current because it is much cheaper to transport over the vast distances it needs to travel from source to usage point. Thus, to make solar power usable, it has to be converted from DC to AC.

A solar power inverter is used to convert DC electricity flowing out of your solar panels into AC electricity that can feed into the power grid. Additionally, inverters are responsible for creating ground-fault protection and for gathering various energy production statistics.

Early in the solar panel industry, "central" inverters were the rule. This class of inverter is able to optimize the performance of your overall solar system, but it can't optimize each panel in a multi-panel system. Plus, if even a single solar panel is struggling because it's too shaded or coated with dust or with snow - the whole system works less efficiently till the problem is resolved.

But today, many solar systems use what's called a "micro-inverter." Micro-inverters optimize for each individual solar panel. That means one panel won't drag down the whole system and your inverters are continually optimizing the output of each panel.

Getting the Most Out of Output

It's not enough to produce a large quantity of electricity with solar panels. You also need to make sure that your power is used and not just wasted. There are two ways to do that: solar battery storage or net metering.

You might divert a portion of your solar power production to keep an electric car recharger itself charged or just to have some extra power stored in case there's a blackout. But the cost of storing huge amounts of power on batteries on-site is prohibitive for most people.

So, instead, they use an electric meter that measures the amount of electricity they are producing as it is fed into the power grid. The meter also can measure how much power you draw from the grid to actually consume.

Sun Solar Electric can not only install a new electric meter for you if you need one to handle the solar system, but we can walk you through how to sign up with your local power provider for a net energy metering agreement (NEMA) so you can exchange power back and forth as needed from the grid. Under the NEMA program, you sell your excess solar generated electricity to the grid at retail price. That means you can get a big discount off your electric bill OR end up with the power company paying you money each month - depending on how much power you produce and consume.

Practical Matters to Consider

Perhaps, you're already very interested in getting a solar system installed at your home or business. But, you probably still have a lot of questions about how exactly it would be done.

The first question is usually, "How much power will I be able to produce with my new solar panels?" Of course, that depends on how many panels you buy, where you position them, and how much sun your property gets on average. You can check Google Maps to get an estimate of how many hours of sunlight your roof gets per year (this data is not yet complete for all locations, but it's sometimes available.)

Southern California is a high-sunshine region. So in general, you get a lot of sun on your roof. Plus, you can install ground-mounted panels with sun-tracking technology so the panels follow the sun from rise to set for maximum exposure each day.

"How much will my solar system cost to install?" is often the next question we hear. Well, again that depends. But, on average, you can expect to spend from $15,000 to $35,000 depending on which type of system you get and how large it is.

But, you can get a 30% federal tax credit, state tax credits, and local rebates and incentives that can lower the cost significantly. In 2020, the 30% federal credit is scheduled to decrease and keep decreasing gradually for several years before being phased out. So now is a good time to install solar panels.

The third most common question flows from the first two - "How much can I save on electricity?" That varies based on how much you produce and on how much you use. But you can access tools even online (for free) like a grid tie estimator tool, that will give you an estimate if you plug in some numbers. 

It's possible to eliminate your power bill and start making money off selling electricity. It typically takes 5 or 6 years to pay off the cost of purchasing and installing the solar system, but you'll save on power consumption in the mean time. And once you own the system free and clear, it's all savings. And most systems are durable enough to last and stay efficient for 25 years or more. So that's 20 years or more of saving big on electricity - easily enough to often make solar panels very cost-effective in the long term.

Why Choose Sun Solar Electric?

Sun Solar Electric offers all of the services necessary to get your new solar system up and running at top efficiency levels in as little time as possible. 

We handle both commercial and residential solar power projects from beginning to end. We are a true one stop shop for everything related to solar panels and solar energy. Here are some of our most common service areas:

  • Assistance in selecting solar panel brands and types.
  • Estimating how much solar energy you would generate under various scenarios.
  • Installation of solar panels, either on the roof or on a solar panel stand in your front or back yard.
  • Installation of inverters and all other accompanying equipment needed to make your solar system work.
  • Electric panel installations or upgrades
  • Helping you set up your NEMA agreement.
  • Installation of EVSE (electric vehicle service equipment).
  • Setting up home battery storage systems.
  • Upgrades, repairs, and inspections of your current solar system.
  • Guidance in helping you apply for the federal investment tax credit and state and local credits and incentive programs.

Once solar power works and how it would work on your home or commercial building in particular, the next step is to take action and make it happen. The end result is you will be able to save money on your power bill month after month for years and even decades to come!

But aside from our wide ranging, high quality services and expertise, Sun Solar Electric also offers you responsive customer service, competitive pricing, and a genuine dedication to always doing what lies in the customer's best interests. We have a longstanding solid reputation for excellence in Sonoma, California, and beyond. 

Finally, Sun Solar Electric stands out as a company that genuinely cares about reducing our collective carbon footprint and our dependence on fossil fuels for everyday energy needs. We help you choose the most environmentally beneficial products that will help you do the maximum possible good for the planet that one household can do.

Contact Us Today for Help with All Things Solar!

At Sun Solar Electric, we have deep experience in installing solar panels and all accompanying equipment you'll need to form a complete solar system. We can explain to you the details of how your solar panels work and show you how to get the most out of them so you can save money and help the environment.

For a free consultation, or a free no-obligation estimate on any products or services you're interested in, contact our solar panel company today by calling 707-658-2157!

We are based out of Sonoma, CA, and serve all the surrounding counties of the SF Bay Area. We have many satisfied clients and over the years have made a big impact on lowering our collective carbon footprint.

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