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How do solar panels work?

Solar power is power that is generated from the sun – from solar energy.

If you’re looking at installing solar panels on your roof, you might be wondering how solar power actually works.

There are two ways you can harness the energy of the sun: light and heat. This blog explains how the sun’s light is converted into electricity for your home or business.

How does solar power work?

To generate electricity from the sun’s light, we have to take advantage of a phenomenon called the photovoltaic effect.

The photovoltaic effect is where sunlight knocks electrons loose in certain materials (such as silicon crystals). With prolonged exposure to sunlight, these loose electrons start to flow in a circuit. The energy from these moving electrons can be captured and turned into electricity.

solar panels in the outback

ZEN installing solar panels

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels use the photovoltaic (PV) effect to generate electricity from sunlight.

When sunlight hits the PV cells in your solar panels, electrons are knocked loose and start to move around in a closed circuit. This is electricity, in its basic form: the electrons flowing around a circuit in a solar PV panel generate a form of energy called Direct Current (DC) electricity.

This low voltage DC electricity is then converted into high voltage Alternating Current (AC) electricity by an inverter (or inverters) connected to your solar PV panels. This AC electricity can then be used in your home immediately during the day or stored in a solar battery for use at night.

A common misconception is that solar PV panels use the sun’s heat to generate electricity.

Conversely, too much heat can actually reduce the efficiency of your solar panels. The perfect conditions for solar panels is a mild, sunny day of about 25 degrees Celsius.

The number of solar panels you have, or the size of your solar power system, will also dictate how much electricity you can generate for your home. Solar systems are sized in kilowatts, and each kilowatt of your system will generate between 3 and 5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy per day. Generally, about 3 or 4 solar PV panels make up 1 kilowatt.

Read our blog, How many solar panels do I need to learn more about how you can ensure your system is sized for maximum benefit.

What are the benefits of solar power?

There are numerous advantages of using solar power for your electricity needs.

Solar energy benefits not only the health of the planet, but can also help you reduce your energy costs in the long term.

Plant on the windowsill in the sunshine

1. It’s renewable

Solar power is a renewable energy source. That means it’s highly unlikely to ever run out, and is a much more sustainable long-term solution for electricity generation. Sunshine is incredibly abundant in Australia – we have some of the longest sunshine hours in the world!

2. It’s clean and green

Using renewable solar energy to power your home or business means you’re using clean, green energy, with minimal or zero greenhouse emissions. Read more about the benefits of solar power on the environment our blog.

3. It’s a great way to reduce your energy costs

When you generate your own electricity using solar panels and use it during the day, you’ll notice a drop in your power bills almost immediately – you’ll reduce your consumption of electricity from the grid. Any electricity that you don’t use is sent back to the grid, often for a small payment called a solar feed-in tariff.

4. You could have power in a blackout

If you also install a solar battery, you can store solar power that you might not otherwise use immediately. This battery can be charged with energy generated by your solar panels, ready to power your home at night. With a solar battery, you could also have the potential to have power in a blackout.

Solar panels on a roof

Ready to invest in solar panels for your home?

Download your copy of our Solar and Battery Storage Buying Guide for comprehensive information about solar panels and battery storage, and learn how you can harness the energy of the sun to power your home both day and night.

You’ll learn:

  • How solar could reduce your energy bills for good
  • Which kind of system would best suit your needs
  • How to tell which retailers to trust

Get the guide

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Zen Energy PTY LTD

Sustainable Industries Education
Centre TAFE SA
Building 5, Level 2, Suite 5.2.1
1284 South Road, Tonsley 5042
Adelaide, South Australia

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