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Green Energy | June 18, 2012

How does solar energy work?

The heart and soul of modern-day solar power systems is the photovoltaic (PV) panel — a technology that NASA used for the first time in 1958 when it launched its first solar-powered satellite, Vanguard 1.

Today, photovoltaics no longer are used exclusively in space to power satellites’ electrical systems. They now enjoy more down-to-Earth applications, offering a whole new way to power homes and businesses all year round.

But exactly how do they work?

As their name implies — photo meaning “light” and voltaic meaning “electricity” — photovoltaics convert sunlight directly into electricity. Made most commonly of silicon, individual cells are connected electrically and packaged into frames called solar panels positioned strategically on your roof to capture the sun’s energy.

When the sun shines, the electricity travels from the panels through wires into a piece of equipment called an inverter. An inverter converts the type of electricity produced by the panels, called Direct Current, or DC, into the type of power your home uses, called Alternating Current, or AC. Once the electricity goes through the inverter, it travels through a wire into your home’s electrical panel to fill your electricity needs.

At night, when your panels are not generating electricity, you continue to get electricity from the local utility. But during the day, your solar panels may produce more power than you consume, feeding power into the utility grid, supplying clean electricity to your community and spinning your meter backward. See the infographic below for a summary of the above.

Unfortunately, not everyone can power his or her home with this clean and efficient energy source. Our next blog post will help you decide whether this is a viable option for you.

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