How Does Solar Power Work?

A source of clean energy while reducing your utility bills, solar panels only continue to increase in popularity. But how does solar power work in the first place?

The simple answer is that solar power harnesses and converts the sun’s energy into electricity. But how exactly do solar panels accomplish this? What components are required to capture sunlight and transform it into usable energy? In this blog, Atlasta Solar Center explores just how solar panels work.

how does solar power work
The sun’s rays are a sustainable source of energy.

The Power of Solar Energy

Humanity has long been aware of the power of the sun. This star is constantly emitting energy via nuclear fusion. How much energy, you ask? According to NASA, when averaged out over the course of a whole year, the sun emits about 342 watts of solar energy upon every square meter of the earth. This turns out to be 44 quadrillion watts of power, a tremendous amount of energy.

What Are Solar Panels?

A solar panel (technically referred to as a photovoltaic panel) absorbs, collects, and converts sunlight into an electric current (energy.) This process is known as the photovoltaic effect. Basically, this is when electrons within the solar panel’s solar cells are knocked loose and move around, creating electricity.

While we may think of solar panels as a modern invention, the first solar panels were invented in the mid-19th century. French physicist Edmund Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect, a process that most solar panels use for converting sunlight into energy. These early solar panels produced little power, especially when compared to today’s solar panels.

Components Of A Solar Panel

PV panels contain solar cells, also known as PV cells. These cells are what absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. In order for these cells to work, they require the following:


A semiconductor is a material that conducts electricity, but only when energy is provided (such as the sun’s rays.) The main semiconductor in solar panels (and most electronics) is silicon. This is a dark gray crystal, formed into thin silicon wafers that make up solar cells. Silicon is the semiconductor for over 90% of PV panels.


While silicon is the semiconductor for electricity, metal is required to convert, or channel, the resulting energy. Many PV panels use silver wiring and metal casings to transport energy to the inverter.


The energy produced by PV panels is DC (direct current) power. However, the type power used to power our homes and businesses is AC (alternative current) power. The inverter does the job of converting the DC power generated into usable AC power.

Anti-Reflective Coating and Protective Glass

Pure silicon is so shiny that it can reflect as much as 35% of sunlight. To prevent this, an anti-reflective coating is applied to the silicon wafers. To protect the delicate PV cells, a glass panel is placed on top. Underneath the glass, a casing for insulation helps dissipate heat and humidity within the panel, as an overheated panel leads to decreased energy output.

Selling Or Storing Excess Energy

What is unique about solar energy is that you can sell or store the excess energy produced, depending on which grid system you have installed.

Grid-Tied System

A grid-tied system enables you to sell excess solar energy to the utility company.

Off-Grid System

An off-grid system enables your solar system to store excess energy in solar batteries, for future use. Most solar energy is often stored in lead-ion or lithium-ion batteries. The power itself lasts an average of one to five days.

how does solar work
Solar panels contain solar cells, which are made of silicon.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Solar Panels Work

Now that you know the basics of how solar power works, here are several FAQs about solar panels.

Do solar panels work at night?

No, as the panels require direct sunlight in order to generate electricity. However, as mentioned above, excess energy can be stored in solar batteries, and this power can be used at night.

Do solar panels work on cloudy days?

Yes, solar panels will store work on cloudy days, but with reduced energy output.

Will solar panels work on rainy and snowy days?

Yes, solar panels work in the rain or snow, but will usually produce less energy. In fact, rain is good for washing dust and debris off PV panels.

How do I know how much energy I need to power my home or business?

The amount of energy needed for your property or business is determined by several factors:

·Where you live and how much sun you receive

· Your current energy consumption

· Whether you’ll still be reliant on the main grid to some degree (grid-tie, and grid-tie with energy storage), or want your property to be fully powered by your solar system (off-grid)

At Atlasta Solar Center, we’re highly experienced solar contractors who consider these aspects and more, to find and implement the system that is best for your needs.

How can I optimize the performance of my solar system?

How PV panels are installed certainly affects their performance. At Atlasta Solar Center, we always consider the best location and tilt for PV panels on your residence or business, to capture as much sunlight as possible.

Keeping your panels clean is also important, as dust and debris can negatively impact energy output. Monitor your energy bills, especially before and after cleaning.

Can I power my RV with solar energy?

Yes, it is possible to power your RV with RV solar panels and solar generators. These particular devices are designed to be portable and quiet power sources for your RV.

Are Solar Panels Worth It?

Given their initial upfront cost, some people are apprehensive about having a solar system installed. However, it’s important to remember solar power can pay off in the long run and can even increase your home value, all while providing clean, quiet energy. Solar systems only continue to decrease in price while energy conversion rates continue to increase. For all your solar panel needs, contact Atlasta Solar Center at 970-248-0057.

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