The Process Of Converting Solar Energy Into Electricity

Solar power is truly transforming how we power our homes and businesses across the UK, offering a cleaner, greener alternative to traditional energy sources.

You’ve probably noticed solar panels popping up on rooftops and across fields, but have you ever wondered how they actually work to generate electricity? At the heart of this process is photovoltaics, a brilliant technology that takes sunlight and turns it directly into electricity.

In this article, we’ll explain how this process works, discuss the role of  solar batteries, and explore the benefits of making the switch to solar.

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What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is essentially the heat and light energy from the sun, and there are several smart ways we can harness this natural resource.

Every day, the Earth receives a vast amount of solar energy, more than enough to meet our global energy needs both now and in the future.

The two main methods for turning sunlight directly into electricity include using solar panels and using solar thermal technology for applications like heating water.

Solar energy is a clean and endless resource, making it a fantastic alternative to traditional fossil fuels. It has the ability to generate heat, produce electricity, and even drive chemical reactions. This technology not only provides electricity but also offers solutions for heating, lighting, and cooling for both residential and commercial spaces.

The Process of Solar Energy Being Converted to Electricity

Solar power works by transforming the sun’s energy into electricity with the help of photovoltaics, a process that relies on solar cells or photovoltaic cells. These photovoltaic cells are grouped together to form solar panels.

Each solar cell is crafted from semiconductor materials like silicon, which includes two layers: one with a negative charge (N-type) and one with a positive charge (P-type).

When particles of sunlight hit these materials, they react and convert solar energy into electrical energy. This is possible because semiconductor materials are filled with electrons. When these electrons come into contact with the conductive layers, they start to move, creating an electric current in the process.

To help paint a clearer picture of how this works, here’s a quick guide:

  1. Sunlight activates the solar panels: Solar panels are made up of silicon cells, a metal frame, glass casing, and wiring, which work together to capture sunlight. These are grouped together as either field or rooftop solar panels, soaking up sunlight during the day.
  2. Cells produce electrical current: Inside each solar cell is a thin semiconductor wafer comprised of two silicon layers, one positive and one negative, creating an electric field. When the sun’s rays hit the solar cell, it activates the cell, causing the electrons to break free and move. This movement generates an electrical current.
  3. Electrical energy is converted: The electricity that the solar panels make is not the kind we use in our homes. It’s called direct current (DC), but our homes need alternating current (AC). An inverter converts the DC electricity to AC electricity. This can be one large inverter for the entire system or smaller inverters for each cell.
  4. Converted energy powers your home: Once converted to AC, the electricity generated flows through your home’s electrical panel and spreads out to power all your appliances. Your house can still be connected to the regular power grid, so if you ever need more electricity than your solar panels are making, you can pull it from the grid.
solar panels

Solar Batteries & Storing Solar Energy

Using a solar battery alongside your solar panel system unlocks a new level of energy efficiency and freedom. In particular, it addresses the inconsistent nature of solar power.

Solar panels are fantastic when the sun is shining, but what about during the night or on cloudy days? Without a way to store the energy your panels produce, you’d be stuck without power during these times, or you’d have to draw from the grid, which might not be as green.

This is where solar batteries can help. They store excess solar energy produced by your solar panels during sunny periods. This allows you to use it when the panels aren’t actively generating electricity. In turn, your appliances can keep running and your lights stay on, even when the sun sets.

Solar batteries also minimise your reliance on the National Grid, giving you more control over your energy use and costs.

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Advantages of Solar Energy

  1. Renewable and eco-friendly

Solar energy is a constant source of power that doesn’t run out, making it an excellent choice for the long term. It’s a clean option that doesn’t release harmful carbon emissions or greenhouse gases, and it avoids the environmental damage associated with extracting fossil fuels.

Plus, it’s also efficient in terms of water usage, requiring far less than electricity generation at power plants.

In the UK, a standard residential solar PV system can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 0.7 tonnes!

  1. Slashes your electricity bills

One of the most appealing benefits is the potential for lower energy bills. When your solar panels generate your own electricity, your dependence on energy suppliers decreases.

You even have the opportunity to earn money by selling any excess electricity back to the National Grid. Solar panel grants are also available, such as the ECO4 scheme, helping to make this a more financially attractive option.

For example, a 3.5 kW solar PV system could set you back by around £7,860 but save you around £520 each year depending on where you live in the UK.

  1. Increases property value

Numerous studies show that the value of a property can increase when you install solar panels. The boost in value depends on where your home is located as homes in sunnier places can gain more solar power.

A recent study from Admiral found that installing a solar power system could make a home’s value go up by as much as 25%!

  1. Lower maintenance costs

Solar panels are known for their reliability and minimal maintenance. Keeping them clean and unobstructed is all that’s needed. Plus, thanks to their angled installation, most dirt and debris will simply slide off. Rain also helps keep them clean.

Most solar panels have a 25-year warranty and a life span of around 25-30 years, making them a great long-term solution for clean, reliable energy.

  1. Less reliance on the National Grid

A home fully powered by solar energy, especially with the addition of solar batteries, can operate independently of the National Grid. These battery systems also ensure that you have power during the night.

While a typical solar power system may not make you completely independent, adding a solar battery can bring you closer to self-sufficiency.

FAQs

The power generated by a solar panel will depend on its size, efficiency, location, and weather conditions. Most residential solar panels produce between 250 and 400 watts per hour. So, for example, a 4 kW solar system for a home in northern England could generate around 2,850 kWh per year.

Solar batteries store energy as direct current (DC) electricity. To use this stored energy for home appliances, an inverter is needed to change the DC electricity into AC electricity. This AC electricity is then stored for later use.

Conclusion

By taking energy from the sun and converting it into electricity with the help of solar cells and batteries, British homeowners reap many benefits. It not only helps the environment but also cuts down on electricity bills and can even increase the value of our properties.

The more solar energy we use, the less we depend on traditional, more harmful energy sources while taking a big step towards a cleaner, greener future.