How Does a PV Solar Electric Installation Work?

A solar electric installation, otherwise known as a Photovoltaic installation, generates a constant and renewable source of energy by harnessing the power of the sun to create clean, green energy. This energy can then be used for a number of power electrical appliances. Anything from fridges, to lights, to your computer can be run with solar energy. This renewable source of energy should not be confused with solar thermal, an energy source used to heat water or generate hot air for heating purposes.

A step-by-step guide to how solar energy works

  1. How does solar energy work? A typical Photovoltaic module is a panel which is attached a roof or wall. These panels consist of many solar cells which are made up of one or two layers of semiconducting material. This material is usually silicone as it effectively absorbs the solar energy from the sun.

  2. When the sunlight comes into contact with this semiconducting layer an electrical field is created, transforming the sun’s rays into electrical energy.

  3. The system includes an inverter which is used to convert the directed current (DC) into alternating current (AC). This is done so that we can run electrical appliances which run predominantly on AC.

  4. With the suns energy supplying a constant source of renewable energy electrical appliances are run purely off solar energy during the day. Any excess energy that is generated in then fed back onto the national grid.

  5. At times when the sun is not able to power the system, such as at night or during the overcast days in winter, appliances can still be powered from mains electricity. This does mean that savings you will make as a result of your solar installation will only be made during the day.

  6. A solar power system may be completely disconnected from the main power grid. This is known as an off-grid, standalone or island solution. A system such as this requires batteries so energy can be stored during the day and used at night.

  7. A meter will record all excess electricity which is fed onto the grid while also recording additional electricity which the system pulls off the grid. This means that you are paid for any energy which you feed back onto the grid and this is offset by the energy which you draw off the grid. Usually you will sell much higher than what you pay for.

  8. Solar performance is measured in kWp (kilowatt peak) which refers to the amount of energy the solar cell generates during peak hours of full sunlight. Different systems will produce different results according to their ability to effectively balance energy and the efficiency of the solar cells used.

  9. The efficiency of a solar module is measured on the percentage of solar energy which is converted into electricity. 20% is the highest approximate value which a solar cell may achieve.

  10. Roof pitch, orientation, the plants power rating and shadow affects the output of a Photovoltaic (PV) system.

  11. Generating solar energy is not purely through sunlight but through solar radiation, too. This means that a solar power system will still generate electricity when it is cloudy, but the amount of electricity produced will be reduced.

  12. Generally, there is more than enough sunlight in most countries to allow for effective operation of PV systems.

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