How does solar power work?
The short explanation is solar power works by converting light from the sun into electricity. This electricity can then be used in your home or exported to the grid when it’s not needed. This is done by installing solar panels on your roof which generate DC (Direct Current) electricity. This is then fed into a solar inverter which converts the DC electricity from your solar panels into AC (Alternating Current) electricity.
The solar panels are made up of silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells. When sunlight hits your solar panels, the solar PV cells absorb the sunlight’s rays and electricity is produced via the Photovoltaic Effect. The electricity produced by your panels is called Direct Current (DC) electricity, and which is not suitable to be used in your home by your appliances. Instead, the DC electricity is directed to your central inverter (or micro inverter, depending on your system set up). The inverter is able to convert the DC electricity into Alternating Current (AC) electricity, which can be used in your home. From here, the AC electricity is directed to your switchboard.
A switchboard allows your usable AC electricity to be sent to the appliances in your home. Your switchboard will always ensure that your solar energy will be used first to power your home, only accessing additional energy from the grid when your solar production is not enough.
All households with solar are required to have a bi-directional meter (utility meter), which your electricity retailer will install for you. A bi-directional meter is able to record all the power that is drawn to the house, but also record the amount of solar energy that is exported back to the grid. This is called net-metering.
Any unused solar electricity is then sent back to the grid. Exporting solar power back to the grid will earn you a credit on your electricity bill, called a feed-in tariff (FiT). Your electricity bills will then take into account the electricity you purchase from the grid, plus credits for the electricity generated by your solar power system that you don’t use.
With solar power, you don’t need to switch it on in the morning or switch it off at night – the system will do this seamlessly and automatically. You also don’t need to switch between solar power and the grid, as your solar system can determine when is best to do so based on the amount of energy being consumed in your home. In fact a solar system requires very little maintenance (as there are no moving parts) which means you’ll hardly know it’s there. This also means a good quality solar power system will last a long time.
Your solar inverter (usually installed in your garage or in an accessible spot), can provide you with information like the amount of electricity being produced at any particular point in time or how much it has generated for the day or in total since it has been operating. Many quality inverters feature wireless connectivity and monitoring.