Solar Energy: How It Works, and Why It Matters

Over the years, there’s been increasing interest in solar energy. Many speak of it as a viable alternative to fossil fuels, others claim the technology just “isn’t there yet”. However, when it comes right down to it, most people simply don’t understand the science behind solar energy, or their understanding is based on outdated models of 5 to 10 years in the past.

In this post, we’ll explain how solar power works, dispel some common myths, and help you decide if solar panel installation is right for you.

How It Works

Atomic Structure – A Quick Rundown

Atoms are comprised of three basic particles:

  • Protons
  • Neutrons
  • Electrons

The protons and neutrons make up the atomic nucleus, and are held together through electromagnetism. Since protons have a positive charge and neutrons have a neutral charge, the overall charge of the nucleus is positive. Electrons (with their negative charge) are thus drawn to the nucleus. When atoms have an equal amount of protons and electrons, they attain an overall neutral charge.

Understanding the power of solar energy means knowing how and why solar panels work on this atomic structure.

How Solar Panels Affect Atoms

Solar panels are comprised of a network of photovoltaic cells, meaning they are semi-conductive. Since these cells are given either a positive or negative charge, they create an electric field.

These cells also work to allow sunlight to force electrons free from otherwise neutral atoms, creating a flow of electricity which is then converted to AC (alternating current), a form of electricity that can power homes. Essentially anything you plug into your wall to power a device uses alternative current. With the electricity derived from the solar panels, you can power your whole home.

Energy Benefits of Solar Power

Solar Energy

The average cost per kilowatt hour is increasing, and as fossil fuels become more rare, they are going to continue to go up in price. Solar energy, on the other hand, is projected to only go down in price, costing less than coal or natural gas. This is especially true in areas that see plenty of sunlight year- round such as Arizona and Nevada. Many people in these areas who have converted over to solar energy have seen a drastic reduction in their utility bills. With an average of 100 degrees or more during the summer in places like Mesa, switching over to solar energy may just be one of the most cost-effective decisions a resident could make.

Furthermore, it’s also possible to sell energy back to your power company if your home is generating more electricity than you are using. That means you could not only be saving money that would otherwise be spent on your electric bill, you could also be making more money by selling it to your power company. For many people, this is a fantastic investment.

It’s also possible for many residents to claim tax credits and exemptions for their solar energy, helping make the entire cost of installation and use of their solar panels more affordable. Consider the Federal Solar Tax Credit, which allows for a 30% deduction of the installation cost.

Many solar companies are also willing to help their customers by offering $0 down, and then allowing for the cost to be paid off over a certain amount of time. Often times, this cost is even lower than the previous electric bills.

Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy

Solar Energy

Much of the world’s energy crisis is due to the increased demand for ever decreasing fossil fuels. Over time, this model simply can’t be sustained. Not only that, but fossil fuels are not good for the environment. The whole process of extraction, processing, and use of materials like natural gas and coal comes with a heavy price on the environment.

Alternatives like solar power are increasing in popularity due to the fact that they aren’t contributing to this energy crisis. They are rather a renewable or “green” alternative.

Furthermore, the ever growing popularity of solar power is leading to advancements in its technology. The lifespan of solar panels is continuing to increase due to the use of more reliable materials and structures. They don’t have to be replaced often.

What Kind of Maintenance Do Solar Panels Need?

Solar Energy

Simply put, solar panels don’t require much maintenance at all. You can expect high quality solar panels to last for decades without requiring much attention beyond keeping them safe from large amounts of dirt, debris, and snow. In many southern areas where people would get the most benefit from solar energy, these kinds of conditions are fairly rare.

Generally speaking, the most amount of upkeep your solar panels will need is to have their inverters replaced, but even then, this is only required a few times throughout the lifespan of your system. Inverters can usually be warrantied.

Dispelling Some Myths About Solar Energy

Myth 1 – Given How Expensive Batteries Are, Solar Power Just Isn’t Viable

This is an example of people working with an outdated understanding of solar power technology. Most solar power systems don’t require batteries. You generally only need batteries for your solar panels if you want backup power. Otherwise, they simply aren’t required.

Myth 2 – Solar Panels Can’t Pay for Themselves

This is yet another example of people using an outdated understanding of solar panels. The fact is that, as the technology behind solar energy continues to advance, and the materials and overall cost of installation continues to drop, solar panels can pay for themselves over time. This can happen sooner or later depending on where you are located.

Myth 3 – Solar Power Technology Is Simply Inefficient

Years ago, people who believed this may have been right. These days, the technology behind solar power has advanced to the point that solar panels can:

  • Fulfil 100% of your energy demands
  • Pay for themselves over time
  • Produce cleaner energy than fossil fuels

People often claim that “the efficiency of solar energy is only 15 to 20 percent”. However, it’s important to remember that what’s truly relevant is what the end user (the home or business owner) wants. The level of efficiency is not a deterring factor due to the fact that there is an infinite supply of sunlight (at least as far as we’re concerned, as the sun is not going to be burning out for at least five billion years).

Stating the percentage of efficiency is misleading, as it doesn’t change the fact that solar panels can generate all of the energy you need, have an unlimited supply of sunlight to produce their effects, and can pay for themselves over time.