Understanding How Solar Panels Work – Off-Grid and Grid-tied Systems

Using solar power for homes has become very popular in recent years. Solar powered devices are environmentally friendly and relatively cheap. The technology is not so new and you have probably seen simple solar panels on your watches or calculator. But if you are planning to install more complex solar power system, you might need to know how solar panels work and the how two main types of solar powered systems differ.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Although the process is a bit complicated, it can be broken down and understood by anyone looking for an alternative power source.

One assumption that anyone can make is that solar power does not work without the use of solar panels. These panels are made of materials known as semiconductors, and silicon is the one most commonly used for solar energy. Materials such as silicon can absorb light and in doing so, absorb a portion of the energy that the light possesses.

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The chemical makeup of semiconductors, such as silicon, is what makes them perfect for creating solar energy. They are made up of fourteen electrons in three shells, two of which are complete and one of which is incomplete. These shells are constantly looking for ways to become whole, so they are open to absorbing the electrons from the sunlight.

One thing that even people who have solar panels on their home or workplace do not realize is that a semiconductor like silicon is not enough on its own. This is because its chemical makeup does not allow the electrons to flow freely. They must be intentionally combined with impurities, such as phosphorous, in order to truly use the solar energy. Although the word impurity is usually negative, it is a vital element for success when it comes to solar power.

Even once people understand how the panels soak up energy, they are unsure of how that energy can be used to power their homes or cars. The electric fields in the panels free the electrons from the light. Metal contacts are then placed on either end of the panels and can help make the power flow in whatever direction it is needed. This is why it is so easy for homes and offices to power all of their electrical devices at least in part by the use of solar energy.

Some people may understand the benefits of solar energy but do not think that it could possibly be enough to fill all of our needs. In fact, on a sunny day, the sun can produce about a thousand waves of energy per square meter of the earth. If we found a way to harness all of this energy, we could certainly power all of our homes and offices solely on natural energy created from the sun.

Those who wonder how does solar power work may need a basic understanding of chemistry and physics to truly understand how they power their homes and offices with sunlight. However, once broken down, the process is actually quite simple and can be applied nearly anywhere. While most solar panels cannot yet harness all the sun has to offer, technology is advancing rapidly and the solar cells today are closer than ever to maximizing the suns energy potential.

Off-grid and Grid-tied Solar Power Systems

The two main types of solar power systems are off-grid systems and grid-tied systems. Making a comparison of these two types will help you to decide which of them is more affordable and suitable for your needs and to understand how solar panels work.

The principle of solar energy storage is similar for both types. All PV solar panels require plenty of sunlight to provide you with electricity. Thus, the main difference between off-grid systems and grid-tied systems is their dependence on the sun or on the utility grid.

Off-grid systems are more suitable in those locations where there’s more sun. They are ideal if you are looking for stand-alone solar powered system, especially if the utility grid is not available in your location at all. On the other hand, they will generally be more expensive as you may need additional PV panels if the location is not very sunny, as well as battery storage.

Grid-tied systems are less dependent on the sun as they are connected to utility grid. This means that whenever you need more power, you can get it from another source and likewise when you have unused solar energy you can feed it into the grid and get paid for it.

All photovoltaic (PV) solar powered systems work with the same solar panels. These solar panels consist of PV cells and that is why they are also called PV panels. PV cells are photo (light) voltaic (electricity) silicone cells that transform sun light into electricity.

It is much easier and less expensive to install solar panels when you build a new house. Not only you can save money on additional wiring, but also you do not have to deal with re-planning or re-construction works. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to consider all pros and cons of different types of solar powered systems, to learn about how solar panels work, and to decide whether you will be able to install DIY solar panels on your own or you will need a help of professionals.


  7 comments for “Understanding How Solar Panels Work – Off-Grid and Grid-tied Systems

  1. February 21, 2012 at 5:31 am

    This is a really good article! Solar panels can really save you money in the long run. It’s so true that even when people know how they work, they still need to know how to use them! That book is super helpful.

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  3. June 12, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    Solar panels are very helpful for us to save electricity and electricity bills. But we couldn,t use them properly in rainy areas.

  4. October 1, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you for sharing this informative article about solar panel grid system. People should know the best grid type for their solar panel needs.

  5. January 7, 2018 at 5:28 am

    Very good introductory article for people starting to get into solar.

  6. May 18, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    Hello, such a nice article and thanks for sharing.

  7. Andrew
    July 18, 2018 at 12:11 am

    Thank you for a good article. I am trying to learn as much as I can about solar power and this was a good start.

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