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Photovoltaic Energy

Questions & Answers

The sun is the ultimate source of energy and we can all benefit from it, but how do solar panels work?  How can something as simple as a solar panel transform sunlight and use it to power your oven, television, and even an Xbox?

Basically in simple terms, a solar panel system uses photons to separate electrons from atoms.  Photons are particles of light.  The process of separating electrons from their atoms creates electricity!

Learn the Process in Detail:

1. Solar panels collect sunlight


Each solar panel contains photovoltaic (PV) cells.  PV cells capture light, or photons, and convert light into electricity.  When sunlight hits the solar panel, PV cells produce direct current (DC) electricity.


That's great, but DC electricity cannot supply your home on its own.  That's where the other types of solar power equipment come in.  Now to the power inverters!

2.  Inverters convert solar energy into usable energy

Some solar panel system configurations have a single inverter (often called a “string inverter”) for the entire system.  Some have a microinverter attached behind each panel.  The most important fact to know about inverters is that they convert DC electricity, the one produced by the solar panels, into alternate current (AC) electricity.  This is the key element necessary to illuminate your home!

3.  The electricity used in your home

Traditional electricity goes through a meter, becomes part of your home and connects your appliances.  Photovoltaic electricity works just as well as traditional electricity does.  You do not need to change anything.  If your solar panels do not produce enough energy to cover all your usage, do not worry.  You are still connected to the traditional power company through the grid, so you can automatically use energy from it when needed.  And what happens if you produce more energy than you use?  Let's find out.

4.  Left over goes back to the grid

It may seem counterintuitive to be connected to the traditional energy grid when you have a solar power system, but the grid has its advantages.  This allows you to use all the electricity you need and send any excess back to your utility company.  Solar panels generate electricity when the sun rises, but we use electricity at night too when we are not producing solar energy.  This is why it is important to stay connected with the traditional grid, so electricity surplus and shortage can be transferred to and from the traditional grid.

5.  Eletricity is measured by a meter 

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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 back to the grid. In some cases, these 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 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. 

Texts extracted from Vivint Solar webpage. Some modifications.

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