By Samantha J. Majka
Here at Solar Energy World, we love the new and innovative technologies that involve solar power. In fact, we spend a lot of time blogging about the great benefits of solar energy, and how it can not only help reduce your carbon footprint, but also seriously reduce or eliminate your energy bills. However, we understand that many of our readers may be browsing the Solar Energy World website for more information regarding the basics of solar power; after all, what better place to seek information than from the fastest growing solar energy company in the mid-Atlantic region?
Think about the sun. You already know that the sun is an abundance of light and heat. Both light (electromagnetic radiation) and heat (the speed and movement of the atoms in matter) are forms of energy, and we use both of these forms of “solar energy” every day. You have probably used a simple, solar powered calculator at some point, and you may have even tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk on a hot summer day. These, and even simple activities like sitting in the sun as opposed to the shade for warmth, are ways that we use solar power. So how do you take solar energy a step further and use it to power everyday things, like your hot water heater, a solar cell phone charger, or even your entire home?
The answer is in photovoltaic or PV cells. PV cells are comprised of materials like silicon. When radiation from the sun (sunlight) hits the silicon atoms, the electrons that bond them together increase in energy and begin to move more rapidly. This increase in energy allows the affected electrons to become part of an electrical current, which then can be used to power your home. The free, negatively charged electrons that create what we know as electricity flow through our homes through the wires that make up the electrical system, as they gravitate toward a positively charged surface.
While sunlight is a constant, daily occurrence, the amount of solar panels you need to fully power your home depends on the amount and quality of sunlight that hits the panels, largely dependent on your location. It also depends on how much electricity your home uses, and the efficiency of the solar panels themselves. As technology improves, the efficiency of solar panels increases.
This information is great for the times when the sun is shining, but what about on rainy days, or when the sun sets every night? Can you still power your home with the electricity gathered from the sun?
Absolutely! Solar energy can be stored in several ways. The electricity can be stored in the same way that rechargeable batteries are charged. However, the more popular, and less expensive, way of storing solar power is through net-metering. Net-metering allows the excess electricity created using your solar panels to flow back into the existing electrical grid. When this happens, the electric meter on your house will roll backwards, like a credit on your account. If you need to use the electricity, you draw it back from the grid, and the meter will roll forward. If you do not need to use the excess energy, you may be able to sell it to the electric company.