Did you know that the sun is the Earth’s greatest source of energy? In fact, the amount of solar radiation falling on the earth in just one hour is enough to meet global electricity needs for a year. In this blog, we will explain how solar energy is captured and turned into electricity.

How do solar systems work?

There are two main types of solar energy systems: photovoltaic and solar thermal. Photovoltaic panels can usually be seen on the roofs of homes and convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar thermal systems use the sun to create heat; the heat powers a turbine; and the turbine generates electricity like a traditional steam engine.

Solar photovoltaic systems generate electricity on a utility scale, as well as in individual homes and businesses.

  • Sunlight hits photovoltaic cells, which have positively and negatively charged layers that form an electric field.
  • Photons of sunlight knock out electrons. These electrons pass through the electric field, creating an electric current.
  • The electric current goes to an inverter, which converts it to electricity.
  • This converted electricity enters the grid.

Solar thermal systems produce utility-scale electricity.

  • Mirrors reflect and magnify the sun’s rays, heating the liquid.
  • When the liquid boils, steam is produced.
  • The steam passes through a turbine and causes the blades to spin.
  • The spinning blades create mechanical energy.
  • A generator captures this energy and converts it to electricity.

What is Net Energy Measurement (NEM)?

Many residents and businesses are installing solar power to lower their energy bills and reduce their carbon footprint. Net energy metering (NEM) uses special energy meters to track the difference between how much electricity a customer’s solar system generates and how much they use. These customers are then given a credit on their utility bill for any excess electricity they return to the grid. The amount of energy produced by the solar panels varies. During the summer months, when the sun is shining brightly, the panels produce more energy, increasing the credit balance of solar customers. During the winter months, those with solar panels are more likely to get power from the grid and use their accumulated credit balance to offset their bill.

What is Solar-Plus-Storage?

Solar-plus-storage is a combination of a solar system and a storage system. This pairing allows solar energy to be stored during the day, when there is plenty of it, so it can be used at night or during peak hours when electricity rates are higher. Combining solar power with storage helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It also creates a more balanced energy grid in which the energy supply more closely matches the demand for energy at any given time.

In addition to balancing the electric grid, solar plus storage contributes to energy resiliency. Solar panels and storage systems can provide households and businesses with access to clean, fossil-free backup energy during power outages.