An easy guide to understanding solar energy systems for beginners

The solar panel concept can seem very confusing to many, especially those who are not very technically or scientifically inclined. However, with a few basic concepts, understanding the science behind solar energy conversion can be quite simple, even if you are only learning about it for the first time. Continue reading to find out how.

Solar Power Overview
Solar = Sun
The solar system is the sun and everything that orbits around it. This includes the planets and their moons as well as numerous asteroids and comets. The Sun has a radius of about 696,340 km and emits light as a result of being heated by nuclear fusion reactions in its core. Some of the energy the sun radiates consists mainly of visible light, ultraviolet light, and infrared radiation.

Solar power is usable energy generated from the sun in the form of electricity using photovoltaics. On their own, solar panels cannot provide reliable electrical energy and therefore require other components to undergo this process.

The Sun as we all know is one of the hottest things in the universe, with a surface temperature of about 15,000,000 Celsius. It also converts about 5 million tons of mass into energy every second. Mind boggling! With so much energy, it was only a matter of time until scientists and inventors figured out how to use this energy to our benefit and generate power. In 1839, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect which explains how electricity can be generated from sunlight using a photovoltaic cell (PV cell) through the photovoltaic effect. This process generates voltage or electric current in a photovoltaic cell when it is exposed to sunlight. This process occurs in the solar cells that exist within solar panels and allows it to convert sunlight to electrical energy.

The photovoltaic process:
● The silicon photovoltaic solar cell on the solar panels absorbs solar radiation when the sun shines.
● The sun rays connect with the silicon cell and activate the electrons, making it move to create a flow of electric current.
● Wires capture and feed this direct current (DC) electricity to a solar inverter to be converted to alternating current (AC) electricity which flows into the electric grid and connects to the circuit in your home’s electrical system.
● Electricity will continue to be generated as long as sunlight continues to reach the module and the circuit is connected.

Solar Power Specifics
Solar Energy
Solar energy is heat from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. Thermal energy can be used for solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, artificial photosynthesis, etc.

Solar Cell
A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell, is an electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect.

What’s the Difference Between Solar Cells and Solar Panels?
Solar panels contain multiple solar cells connected in a series of parallel circuits which create a solar module. Solar cells are building blocks of solar panels. Multiple solar cells that are oriented in the same way make up what we call solar panels. Solar panels are made up of putting several solar cells together in a module.

Solar Panel
A solar panel is an assembly of photovoltaic cells mounted in places that have direct access to sunshine such as rooftops, fields, along roadsides, and are used to convert energy from sunlight to direct current electricity. They are also strung together to make a module, and when modules are connected, they make a solar system or installation.

What are Solar panels made of?
Most solar panels are made out of silicon wafers, more commonly known as sand. These are made out of the element silicon, a hard and brittle crystalline solid that is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen. If you’ve ever seen shiny black specks in the sand at the beach, that is silicon.

Components of a Solar Energy System
● Solar panels: Convert sunlight to electrical energy using photovoltaic cells.
● Solar inverters: Responsible for turning direct current (DC) electricity from the panels and batteries to alternative current (AC) to power your electrical appliances.
● Batteries: Store and conserve excess electricity produced by the solar panels during the day so that it is readily available for use when it’s needed the most such as at night or as backup power during a power outage.
● Solar charge controller: Regulate voltage and current to keep batteries from overcharging, thereby optimizing its performance (many times inverters have charge controllers built in).

Advantages of Solar Panels Systems
● They provide free, clean, and renewable energy.
● They are quiet and noiseless.
● Its maintenance costs are relatively low compared to other sources of energy such as a power generator.
● Solar energy can be harnessed from any location, as long as there is sunlight in that region.
● They are waterproof and therefore do not absorb moisture.
● Solar power plants have fewer safety risks compared to other power generation sources like the petrol generators.

Disadvantages of PV Solar Panels
● They cannot absorb energy during the night, and the amount of energy collected during the day also varies with weather seasons and time of the day.

What you learned
● Solar cells or photovoltaic cells when assembled in modules make up a solar panel.
● Solar power requires the photovoltaic process in order to provide usable electricity from the sunlight.
● Solar panels are made up of silicon, which is the second most abundant substance in the world.
● Solar batteries are used to distribute solar energy to other times when it’s needed, thereby reducing your cost of electricity purchase and providing you with backup power when there is no sunlight.

In this piece, the components of a solar panel system were defined and the process of converting sunlight to reliable electrical energy was broken down to make solar energy clear and easy to understand.

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