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How does solar power work?

While the idea of solar-powered homes isn’t a particularly new concept, the installation of solar systems in UK households has rocketed in popularity over the last decade. This may be due to the ongoing acknowledgement of the climate crisis, or the affordability of installing a solar system.

The UK currently sits in 7th on the world rankings for renewable energy, which is a great start, but we all know there is more work to be done to reduce our emissions. The UK government has pledged an ongoing commitment to reduce carbon emissions, with the plan for the country to be net zero emissions by 2050. 

While the use of solar in your home is the obvious choice for the planet, it’s easy to wonder how does solar power work? Well, the answer lies behind some clever science, correct installation, and the heat and light of the sun.

A common misconception when wondering how solar power works, is that the system will only generate enough energy in a hot and sunny country. This isn’t the case, as we’ll explain further in our blog. It may surprise you to know that there are 6.14GW of solar panels installed across homes in the UK, which is more than double the capacity of the largest fossil fuel station in the country. 

The science behind solar

In simple terms, solar panels generate energy from the sun and convert it into electricity.  The electricity is then used to power your home, and any extra is sent back to the national grid to be redistributed. 

To understand how solar power works, we need to understand what solar panels are made from. 

Solar panel systems are made from photovoltaic cells, which is why you may have heard of solar panels also being referred to as solar PV. These cells are the catalyst for the conversion of the suns energy into electricity.

Photovoltaic cells are layered between semiconducting materials such as silicone. Each layer has different properties that energise when subjected to sunlight. This creates an electric field. This action is known as the photoelectric effect. Activating this effect is what makes the current needed to produce electricity. 

How does solar power work?

The solar panels you can see on your roof might be the only visible part of your solar system, but there’s a lot happening on the inside to make sure your home has plenty of energy.  So how does solar power work to power your home?

An important thing to remember about photovoltaic cells is that the energy they generate is direct current (DC) which isn’t suitable for electricity use for your appliances at home. Therefore, the DC current needs to be converted to useable electricity, or alternating current (AC).

To do this, an inverter is installed as part of the system. The inverter controls the conversion from DC to useable AC energy, which is then sent to your switchboard. The inverter is normally installed in an accessible location within your house, such as a garage, and provides information about your solar system. You can gather data such as the amount of electricity generated daily, or overall.

The switchboard is used to control the now useable AC energy and distributes it to the appliances throughout your home. The switchboard will ensure that your home’s energy needs are met before sending any surplus energy back to the national grid. 

A common question when researching how solar power works is whether the system needs to be switched on and off. Thankfully, a solar system is intelligent enough to work automatically when it needs to be used. Your solar system will also switch seamlessly between the use of the national grid too, as it will automatically calculate this based on the amount of energy being used in your home.

Does it need to be hot and sunny for solar panels to work?

When looking at how solar power works, you could be forgiven for thinking that the panels require hot and sunny weather to be effective in generating electricity for your home. 

Solar panels react to visible light, this means if there’s daylight, your panels will generate electricity. The stronger the light source, the more electricity will be generated, but places with more than eight hours of daylight annually are best suited for solar panel installations. When installing solar panels, it is advisable to look for a southern facing roof or platform to make the most of the daylight hours. 

Hot and sunny generally goes hand in hand, but solar panels can actually become less efficient in really hot or cold climates. This makes The UK one of the best climates to have solar panels fitted. 

Now you’re clear on how solar panels work, is it time to start your own solar journey? Get in touch with our expert team today to find the best solar panel system for your needs.