Solar Energy: How It Works & How It Can Benefit You

Laura Broad[1]

Laura Broad

Money Savings Advice Solar energy & how it works

Solar panels, with photovoltaic cells, convert the sun’s light into power. Solar panels must be used with an inverter since they produce Direct Current which needs to be converted to Alternate Current before it can power your home.

In 1839, French scientist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel created the first PV cell. The photovoltaic cell could harness the sun’s rays, converting them into electricity. Since then, humans have developed this technology for even more renewable energy.

Today, solar panels can power the world and are much larger than Becquerel’s creation.

Keep reading to learn more about how we use solar energy and how it works.

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Solar Energy: How It Works & How It Can Benefit You

The sun’s light takes about 8-9 minutes to reach Earth. Once it’s here, we can use it to power our TVs and our kettles.

Solar panels are the tools we need to harness the sun’s rays for use. A solar panel, containing photovoltaic cells, converts the sun’s light to electricity.

Electricity from a solar panel is in Direct Current form. The National Grid uses Alternate Current, so an inverter is used to convert DC to AC. AC is cheaper to transport long-distance, so it’s important to convert the current so that it can be put through the existing system that’s in place.

Solar energy can be collected at home, usually by solar panels on the roof, or in large solar parks or solar farms. Solar parks have long rows of solar panels; all positioned to collect as much sunlight as possible. Solar farms generate energy for widespread use, whilst solar panels at home are just for the family that lives there.

Once power has been converted to Alternating Current, it’s sent on to a switchboard. The switchboard directs all the electricity to the places where it’s needed.

What if You Don’t Have Enough Solar Power at Home?

If you have solar panels at home, but don’t have enough stored solar power, you can buy electricity from the National Grid. The switchboard controls the distribution of power, always starting with the electricity that your solar panels have produced.

Power From the National Grid Will Supplement Your Own Solar Energy.

As well as buying from the National Grid, you’ll be able to sell to it. A bi-directional smart meter can record exported electricity. If you’re producing more electricity than you immediately need, then you’re able to export it and get some money back.

To avoid selling power that you don’t need straight away, then buying some back a short time later, you can install a solar plus battery that’s used for excess energy storage. Your battery can be used to keep some power aside, for times when you’re generating less than you need (like at night, or on overcast days).

If you have a battery, then you can also use it to buy energy from the National Grid at cheaper times, such as overnight, ready to be used during the day when you need it.

Is Solar Energy Completely Renewable?

Solar energy is a renewable, sustainable and non-polluting energy source. For as long as life on planet Earth exists, the sunlight will never run out. New sunlight is always being produced, so we can collect and use as much as we need.

Solar panels work best in locations that have plenty of direct sunlight. They’re ideally suited to warmer locations with long days, so solar farms are typically built in deserts and warmer locations. California has many large solar farms. It also had the first one ever in the early 1980s.

To maximise production of solar energy at home, you need to get the angle and direction of your solar panels just right. You should install them so that they’re south-facing and will need to watch out for overhanging objects like trees that could cast shadows on the panels.

On overcast days, solar panels can still take in the sun’s energy. They will, however, be far less effective under clouds. At night, solar panels won’t make electricity so you’ll need to draw on stored energy.

Do You Need Large PV Solar Panels?

The larger the solar panels, and the more photovoltaic cells they contain, the more energy you’ll harness and use. There are, however, many good reasons to use a smaller solar panel. Portable solar chargers can be used to charge phones in the middle of nowhere. Even calculators can be powered by a few PV cells.

The size of the solar panels and the number of panels needed should correlate with the intended use. If you don’t install enough panels, you won’t get the power that’s needed. As long as you have space, it’s better to install too many solar panels than too few.

Excess energy can always be sold to the National Grid. Connected cells make a panel, and connected panels make an array. A large solar array, as seen at a solar farm, can generate a lot of electricity.

Is Solar Energy Expensive?

You’d think that solar energy would be very expensive, though solar panels themselves are now relatively cheap to install. For an average UK home, solar panels might cost around £6,000. The price has dropped considerably since home solar panels first became available.

Producing solar energy is fairly cheap, which means that it’s also more affordable as a long-term resource. Though many people, homes and businesses still rely on fossil fuels, renewable power (like solar energy) is quickly moving to take over.

Once your solar panels are in place, there’s very little that’s needed to maintain them. They’ll mostly look after themselves, only needing to be cleaned once or twice a year. They will typically last for 40-50 years before they need to be replaced. Who knows what renewable energy equipment will be available by the time today’s solar panels need to be replaced by something newer?

The initial investment means that solar panels are still out of the reach of many homeowners, or that they’re just not a priority. It can take several years for the savings from solar power to pay back what you originally spent. However, there are many benefits, and prices continue to drop.

What if We Could Harness All the Sun’s Energy?

If we had enough solar panels on Earth to harness all the sun’s energy, we would only need 18 days of sunshine to match the planet’s entire reserves of coal, natural gas and oil.

Solar energy is incredibly powerful. It could be everything we need to power the world if we installed enough panels. The government certainly backs solar energy, with various reports and speeches given that indicate a desire to continue developing the solar power industry.

Solar farms continue to pop up around the world, and existing ones are often expanded. It’s surprisingly quick, easy and cheap to add new panels to existing solar farms. As our solar farms and solar parks grow, both in size and number, we can use solar energy to meet more of our everyday power needs.

More About Solar Energy

Are you interested in solar energy? Our guides will help you learn more. Discover everything about the advantages and disadvantages to other facts, and find out more about installing solar panels at home. We can even direct you to solar panel grants, or ways to save money when buying solar panels for your property.

How Can Money Savings Advice Help You With Solar Energy?

Here at Money Savings Advice, we have partnered with some of the UK’s leading Solar Energy companies. They have already helped thousands of people get the best Solar Panels & Solar Energy solutions for their homes and they can do the same for you.

Choosing an independent Solar management company means they won’t proceed with a scheme unless they are sure it is in your best interests. They are also regulated by the FCA, which gives you an additional layer of protection.

If you would like to speak to one of these Solar Energy companies who can help you, then click on the below and answer the very simple questions.

Money Savings Advice Author Laura Broad

Laura Broad

Laura is a professional content writer and learning designer, passionate about empowering people through straightforward, jargon-free content. When she's not reading or writing about all things personal finance, you can find her in the gym, barbell in hand.

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