What are photovoltaics?

Wikipedia defines photovoltaics as the best-known method of generating electric power using solar cells to convert light energy from the sun into a flow of electrons. The photovoltaic effect refers to photons of light exciting electrons into a higher state of energy, allowing them to act as charge carriers for an electric current.

Why is this important? It is because photovoltaic panels are the primary means used by residences and corporations seeking to use solar energy to power their homes and businesses.

How Does a Solar Photovoltaic Panel Work?

Simply put, a solar panel works by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. Solar panels actually comprise many, smaller units called photovoltaic cells. Each photovoltaic cell is basically a sandwich made up of two slices of semi-conducting material, usually silicon — the same stuff used in microelectronics. A couple of other components of the cell turn these liberated electrons into usable power. Metal conductive plates on the sides of the cell collect the electrons and transfer them to wires. At that point, the electrons can flow like any other source of electricity. These photovoltaic cells work in concert to create a photovoltaic system to power your home or business.

How does a Photovoltaic System Work?

A PV system includes a variety of components: Most important are the PV modules (groups of PV solar cells), which are commonly called PV panels; one or more batteries; a charge regulator or controller for a stand-alone system; an inverter to convert solar power from direct current (DC) to the alternating current (AC) of the utility grid-connected system; and wiring to conduct the electricity generated to the appliances and installations that require electricity to work.

In summary, photovoltaic systems allow us to convert sunlight directly to electricity using solar cells. Every day, light hits your roof’s solar panels with photons (particles of sunlight). The solar panel converts those photons into electrons of direct current (“DC”) electricity. The electrons flow out of the solar panel and into an inverter and other electrical safety devices. The inverter converts that “DC” power (commonly used in batteries) into alternating current or “AC” power to power your television, computer, and toasters use when plugged into the wall outlet.

How Does a Photovoltaic System Align with Your Current Utility System?

A net energy meter will be installed by you or your utility system to keep track of the power your solar system generates and to redirect any solar energy you generate but do not use back into the electrical grid. If you do not use this energy, your utility will likely issue you a “credit.” Then, at night or on cloudy days, when your system is not producing enough or more than what your home or business requires, you will tap into that credited electricity or buy energy from the grid as normal. Your utility will bill you for the “net” consumption for any given billing period and provide you with a dollar credit for any excess power you generate during a given period.

It should be noted that each state is moving forward with solar energy installations in its own way and at its own pace, but it is clear that the future of solar energy is assured and that utility companies are adapting to new consumers with systems of their own which need to interface with the power needs of the larger communities. There are tax incentives and user- friendly policies in place in all fifty states to help make solar energy an expanding resource for both home and business owners seeking inexpensive, reliable and non-polluting sources of energy for both now and the future.