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How do solar panels really work?

The sun is an unlimited source of energy, more than could ever be used by the earth. It is only just recently that we have learned to harness that energy for use in our homes. New technology allows homeowners to capture that energy and use it to run appliances, heat and cool homes, and power their lighting. Using the sun as a source of energy is sustainable, especially when compared to the conventional use of fossil fuels which will eventually run out. In addition to sustainability, solar energy doesn’t emit pollution into the air like the use of fossil fuels to produce energy.

Most people of have a basic understanding of how solar panels work. The sun shines on the panel, the panel absorbs the energy from the sunlight, and then turns it into electricity to be used in the home. But that doesn’t explain exactly how solar panels do their job. How do they capture sunlight and how does it get converted into electricity?

Photo courtesy Modernize.com

Photo courtesy Modernize.com

Understanding Solar Cells

The most basic component of solar panels are solar cells. Solar cells are made from layered semiconductor wafers made of silicon. These cells are able to produce an electrical charge when they come in contact with photons in sunlight. Solar cells are placed together into a panel, and they work together to produce direct current electricity for use in the home.

Turning the Direct Current Electricity into Alternating Current Electricity

In general, homes and business do not run on direct current electricity. The electric charge of direct current power only flows in one direction, but alternating current power flows in both directions. Home appliances, lighting, and heating and cooling systems are largely run on alternating current power. This means the electricity produced by solar panels is useless unless it can be converted into alternate current electricity. Since solar panels aren’t able to produce alternating current power, inverters are used to convert direct current power so it can be used by the home.

Since solar panels produce energy, a homeowner can use it to power the heating and air conditioning, lighting, and the electronics in the home. When you switch to solar power, you can expect to save a lot of money on your monthly utility expenses. Solar energy experts estimate that most homeowners can expect to save $44,256 over the course of 25 years, which is the expected life of most solar energy systems.

When you make solar power the main source of energy for your home, the resale value of your home will also increase. According to Forbes, when you sell your home you can expect a 97 percent return on your investment.

Homeowners might consider making a switch to solar energy in an attempt achieve greater independence from nonrenewable energy sources, increase the resale value of their homes, and save money on monthly utility costs.

Mary Sauer writes content for Modernize.com. She has written for Babble, Mom.me and What to Expect. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and two young daughters.