What is it?
Solar energy is the process of harnessing the sun's energy to produce electrical energy. We are using the sun for ways other than heating our planet. It is also known as solar photovoltaic energy (PV) as to not confuse it with solar thermal energy (CSP)
Solar thermal energy (CSP) is actually very different from this type of solar energy.
How does it work? (Basic version)
The Sun delivers energy called photons. These photons are little packets of energy.
Solar panels are made up of solar cells. That is the surface. Solar cells are made up of silicon, like semiconductors. They are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer, which together create an electric field, just like in a battery.
When photons hit a cell, they knock electrons loose from the photons' atoms. If conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides of a cell, it forms an electrical circuit. When electrons flow through such a circuit, they generate electricity. Solar panels generate direct current electricity. With direct current electricity, electrons flow in one direction around a circuit. This example shows a battery powering a light bulb. The electrons move from the negative side of the battery, through the lamp, and return to the positive side of the battery.
However, the U.S. power grid uses alternating current electricity. We have to then convert the direct current electricity to alternating current electricity. We do that using a solar inverter.
Inverters take the direct current electricity and convert it to alternating current electricity. They are also like the brains of the system. In addition to converting the direct current electricity to alternating current electricity, they also provide ground fault protection and system stats, including power on alternating current electricity and direct current electrical circuits, energy production and maximum power point tracking.
How is it renewable energy?
The Sun will never run out of light while humans are on the Earth.
Also harvesting solar energy does not emit greenhouse gases. This is because of the fact that we do not have to burn anything or have anything to do with releasing greenhouse gases with solar energy.
If we harness all of the energy that came from the sun in 24 hours, it would be enough electricity to power the Earth for 1 year!
How much does it cost to install?
Across America, the average solar panel would be $2.87 to $3.85 per watt. For an average American home (5000 watts) it would be $16,800 before tax credits. You get tax credits when installing solar panels. After tax credits, the price will be $10,045 to $13,475.
Now, that may seem like a lot, but when you think about it, it is like an investment. The average electric bill is about $110 a month. That will pay off in about 7 1/2 years because you won't have to pay that.
However, the price of solar panels has dropped significantly. The price in 2013 was 99% lower than it was in 1985, and the price in 2017 was 86% lower than it was in 2013. Economists estimate that by 2022, prices will have dropped another 25%!
Can you get solar energy without installing panels in your home?
Yes! If you do not want to pay the money, you can switch your energy provider to one that uses renewable energy. It will not necessarily be 100% SOLAR energy, but it will be 100% renewable energy. There could also be some wind energy or other types of renewable energy being used. They generate energy using things called solar farms. These solar farms are rows upon rows of solar panels to produce electricity. The image at the top of the page is an example of a solar farm.