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how solar work

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about solar

How solar works

Here's the process in more detail

01.Solar panels collect sunlight

Every solar panel contains photovoltaic (PV) cells. PV cells take light, or photons, and turn that light into solar electricity. When sunlight hits the solar panel, PV cells get to work by producing direct current (DC) electricity. This is all great—but DC electricity can’t power your home on its own. That’s where the other pieces of solar energy equipment come into the picture. On to inverters!

02.Inverters convert solar power to usable electricity

Some solar panel system setups have a single inverter (often called a “string” inverter) for the entire system. Some have a microinverter attached behind each solar panel. The most important thing to know about inverters is that they convert DC electricity, produced by the solar panels, into alternating current (AC) electricity. That’s the good stuff that powers your home. Now we’re getting somewhere.

03.Solar electricity is used in the home

Solar electricity runs through your net meter, makes itself comfortable in your home, and powers your appliances. It works just like your traditional electricity does now—you don’t have to change a thing. If your solar panels don’t produce enough energy to cover all of your electricity needs, don’t worry. You’re still connected to traditional power companies via the grid, so you can automatically draw more energy from your utility when you need. What happens if you produce more power than you use? Let’s find out.

04.Leftover solar electricity goes back to the grid

It might seem counterintuitive to be on the traditional power grid when you have a solar energy system, but being on the power grid has its advantages. It allows you to use as much electricity as you need before sending any excess power back to your power company to use. Solar panels generate electricity when the sun is up, but we use electricity at night too, when we’re not producing solar power. That’s why it’s important to stay connected to the power grid.

05.Electricity is measured by the net meter

For this last part, you’ll need to know what a net metering agreement is. Net metering is when your local utility company agrees to provide energy credits for any surplus power you produce and send it back to the power grid. In some cases, these energy credits can roll over so you accrue them long-term, and some utilities will even cut you a check for your power production credits. The net meter device is installed in the home and measures the electricity going to and from the power grid. This meter is similar to the electric meter you probably have now, but it measures power going in two directions instead of just one. Have more questions? Get even more specifics on net metering here.