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Answering The Most Common Questions About Solar: How Does Solar Work (step by step)?

By the end of this article, you will have the answers to the following commonly asked questions about solar:

Note: You may skip to a

specific section by clicking on one of the questions listed above. Let's get started!

Introduction to solar energy

The sunlight hitting the Earth's surface in an hour and a half can provide enough energy for the entire world's needs in a year. Solar technologies, like solar panels and mirrors, convert this sunlight into electricity. This electricity can either power homes directly or be stored for later use in batteries or thermal storage.

If you want to understand more about solar energy, you can explore resources on solar radiation basics, photovoltaic and concentrating solar-thermal power technologies, integrating with electrical grids, and the non-hardware costs (soft costs) of solar energy. You can also discover how to transition to solar power and learn about the solar energy industry.


Solar radiation is sunlight, a type of light or electromagnetic radiation, emitted by the sun. While every location on Earth receives some sunlight throughout the year, the amount of solar radiation reaching a specific spot varies. Solar technologies capture this radiation and convert it into useful energy forms.

In our quest for sustainable energy, the spotlight has turned decisively towards solar power. Understanding the intricate dance of photons, electrons, and semiconductors is key to comprehending how solar energy works step by step. Let's embark on a journey through the fundamental principles and practical applications that make solar power a compelling force in the global energy landscape.

How does solar work (STEP BY STEP)?

Step 1: Embracing Sunlight

Each solar panel is a blend of silicon cells, a sturdy metal frame, a glass casing with a special film, and strategic wiring. Grouped into "arrays" on rooftops or spacious outdoor areas, these photovoltaic cells soak up sunlight, kicking off the captivating journey of energy conversion.

Step 2: Creating Electrical Current

Within every solar cell lies a delicate semiconductor wafer with positively and negatively charged layers, crafting an electric field. When sunlight hits a cell, it charges up the semiconductor, liberating electrons. Guided by the electric field, these electrons unite to create an electric current—a fascinating dance of energy.

Step 3: Transforming Electrical Energy

While solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity, our homes thrive on alternating current (AC). Meet the inverter, a clever device that effortlessly converts DC into AC. In today's solar setups, inverters may be centralized or distributed as microinverters behind each panel, ensuring optimal efficiency.

Step 4: Illuminating Your Home

Now armed with AC electricity, solar energy flows through your electrical panel, breathing life into your appliances just like electricity from the grid. Fear not, your connection to the traditional power company remains intact, allowing you to seamlessly draw additional power when the sun takes a break.

Step 5: Monitoring Usage with Net Metering

On cloudy days or during the night, your solar panels might miss the sun's warmth, yet on sunny afternoons, they could generate surplus energy. A net meter steps in, tracking electricity flow to and from your home. Any surplus power sent back to the grid earns you credits—an arrangement known as net metering, contributing to a balanced energy ecosystem.

How Do Solar Panels Work Without Electricity?

This is another commonly asked question about solar. Here's the quick answer.

In the event of a power outage, it's important to note that solar panels alone typically cannot supply electricity to your home or business. However, there are two exceptions to this general rule. Firstly, if your solar panel system is equipped with energy storage, it can continue to provide power even when the grid is down. Secondly, opting for an off-grid solar system, rather than a grid-tied one, allows you to maintain electricity access during power outages.

How do you use solar when power is out?

Many individuals often ponder whether solar panels remain operational during a power outage. It's important to note that solar panels alone are unable to function in such situations due to the lack of electricity storage. However, incorporating solar battery storage resolves this issue, allowing for the quick recharge of stored energy through solar panels. By connecting a generator portable power station to solar panels, you create a solar generator that replenishes itself with cost-free solar energy. Generators prove invaluable during rolling blackouts, providing a temporary electric supply capable of powering various home appliances, including refrigerators and HVAC systems. Embracing this solution not only ensures a green energy source but also offers a cost-free alternative during power outages.

How do solar batteries work?

Another great alternative during power outages is a solar battery storage system. To better grasp the functionality of storage in conjunction with solar panels, let's review how solar panel systems operate. Typically, the installation of solar panels involves a 'grid-tied,' net-metered system. In this setup, surplus electricity generated by your solar panels can be fed back into the grid when it exceeds your immediate needs. Conversely, when your electricity consumption surpasses the solar panel output, you can draw power directly from the grid. Net metering facilitates a seamless exchange, allowing your electricity meter to operate in reverse during surplus generation and forward during grid reliance, with the utility billing you for the net electricity consumption.

In the context of a solar plus storage system, the surplus electricity can be redirected to charge an energy storage system instead of exporting it to the grid. Subsequently, during periods of electricity usage after sunset, you have the option to draw power from your solar battery rather than relying on the electric grid.

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