Residential Solar Panel Basics

Solar Panel Installation
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Solar Panel Installation
Typical Solar panel installation on a metal roof

If you’ve ever considered installing solar panels on your home?  Have you asked yourself, how solar power works?. It may seem complex, but the truth is, it’s quite simple.

Solar panels starts with silicon ingots or solar wafers, the primary component in solar panels. There are two main types of wafers, p-type and n-type. The p-type wafers contain boron or gallium, and n-type wafers contain phosphorus or arsenic. The addition of these materials makes p-type wafers positively charged, and n-type negatively charged. Slices of p-type and n-type silicon are layered over each other to create a cell. When photons from the hit a cell, electrons are then knocked loose from the silicon. The differently charged silicon allows a harvest-able voltage to be created. Individual cells are then arranged with others to make a solar panel. There are 64, 72, 96 and 144 cells in a typical residential solar panel.

Energy generated by solar panels cannot be fed straight into the grid. This is because they generate direct current (DC) power, and homes run on alternating current (AC) power. To rectify this, solar panels are connected to devices called inverters. These devices are responsible for converting DC solar energy to AC.

After conversion to AC power, solar panel can then be tied into the electrical grid. This is typically done through the main load center (breaker panel), where the electrical grid is connected to an individual’s home. After being connected to the utility grid. Energy that is generated can be used.  The excess is fed back into the grid. Specially designed meters account for the back flow by making the meter turn backwards. (National Grid, and RGE/NYSEG use two different style meters.  We will cover the differences in bi-directional meters in a later blog post.)

To briefly recap, energy production starts with two slices of silicon, both oppositely charged. When sunlight hits the silicon layers, electrons are knocked loose creating a voltage. This DC electricity is then converted to AC electricity by an inverter. This energy is then fed into your home and the electrical grid for general use.

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