Solar energy is growing worldwide as more and more countries switch on to the need for renewable energy types. The sun shines every day (okay, not in the UK) and amazingly the energy it provides the earth for one hour could meet global energy needs for a whole year.
However, we are only able to harness 0.001 per cent of that energy, so we simply have to utilise as much of the power that this incredible star at the centre of the Solar System offers as we can.
The use of solar panels dates back to 1839 when Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect, explaining how electricity can be generated from sunlight. Clever boy.
The cost of solar energy has dropped in recent years as the clamour for ￼green energy options grow and technical efficiencies improve.
Today, solar panels are a viable way of cutting your electricity bills (although they can be expensive at first) as well as allowing you to do your bit in the battle to live self-sustainably, or at least reduce the carbon footprint in your home. It’s an easy way to help save the planet, so you’re doing right by your children and your children’s children too.
How do solar panels work on houses?
Solar panels work by absorbing sunlight with photovoltaic (PV) cells, usually after being placed on the roof of a house. The panels convert this sunlight into direct current (DC) energy which travels inside the house to an inverter, which in turn converts it to alternating current (AC) energy, which then flows through the home’s electrical panel powering any appliances with electricity. Any excess electricity will be sent off to the electric grid, which in turn provides you with the electricity needed if you use more than the panels create.
That’s a lot to take in all in one go, so h￼ere’s your four-step overview:
- Solar panels absorb energy from the sun and convert it into DC electricity.
- DC electricity from your solar panels is￼ converted to AC electricity by inverter technology (AC electricity is used by most home appliances).
- Electricity flows through your home, powering electronic appliances and devices.
- Any extra electricity produced by the solar panels is fed back to the electric grid.
So, how do solar panels work to generate electricity?
Ready for your second science lesson? Each PV cell is basically a sandwich (not as tasty as a BLT admittedly) made up of two slices of semi-conducting material such as silicon. When light interacts with a silicon cell, it prompts electrons to be set in motion which initiate a flow of electric current known as the ‘photovoltaic effect’.
You got distracted thinking about BLTs, didn’t you? Don’t worry, it happens. Let’s get back on topic and break down how it works￼:
- Solar cells absorb incoming energy in the form of sunlight.
- Electrons begin to flow, generating an electrical current.
- Wiring captures the electrical current and combines it with power from other solar cells.
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Benefits of solar panels
Now you know what they are and how they work, we can tell you why to care.
- Renewable energy source: Solar energy is accessible for as long as we have the sun, which scientists reckon will be at least five billion years. It’s truly a renewable energy source, doesn’t produce gases, pollute water or create noise. It’s a green dream.
- Reduces electricity bills: Since you’ll be generating some of your energy needs from solar panels, your total electricity bills will drop. You can also make money by selling any unused electricity back to the grid. And you can still ￼switch gas and electricity suppliers when you have solar panels.
- Timing: Household energy usage needs tend to be higher in the afternoon and evenings, when people are at home. This is perfect as solar energy reaches maximum production around those times. Note: solar panels don’t work at night.
- Low maintenance: Solar panels don’t require much maintenance – just cleaning a few times a year. Warranties are usually for 20-25 years and the inverter only needs to be changed after 10 years.
Why may solar panels not work?
You’ve installed your solar panels but the system just doesn’t seem to generate any energy. What can you do?
Unfortunately this problem – known as zero power output – can be caused by a damaged inverter, faulty charge controller or simply your solar panels not working.
Check if your inverter is up and running. This works as a power adapter and is crucial to converting the energy of the sun into a format home appliances accept.
If it still doesn’t work after inspecting the inverter, you’ll have to contact the company that supplied it. Do the same with your charge controller.
Other reasons include nearby trees casting a shadow on your solar panels when the sun is out (grrr, neighbours) and your system overheating – this can be fixed by connecting extra modules.
How do I know if my solar panels are working?
There are five things to check to ensure your solar panels are working correctly.
- Check the weather – On days without sunshine you will receive 10-25 per cent of the panel’s maximum capacity, according to ￼SunRun.
- Check your inverter – As the brain of your solar system, your inverter will provide the biggest clue as to whether your panels are working.
- Check your solar meter – Solar meters￼ monitor your system’s production and display figures such as the total kilowatts per hour that your panels are generating. If they increase, you’re fine.
- Check your bill – If your bill is higher than before you installed the panels, something is wrong.
- Check with your solar company – It’s always a good idea to check with your solar provider once you are up in running that everything is running smoothly.
Ready to switch?
You can still ￼switch gas and ￼switch electricity providers if you have installed solar panels at your home.
On top of your solar energy savings you may be able to pocket up to £350 a year with a better deal. Let Look After My Bills ￼show you the way today.