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Solar 101

Posted on Monday, August 29th, 2011 at 11:15 am by Solar Energy USA

SOLAR 101- Do you ever think about where the electricity that powers your home comes from? The truth is that nearly 50% comes from dirty coal-fired power plants, while renewable sources (including solar and wind) account for a mere 2.5%. Below is a brief “Solar 101” to explain how and why using solar energy is a better idea than using traditional sources.


With the advent of efficient and affordable solar panel technology and great tax incentives on both state and federal levels, you the homeowner now have the power to decide where you get your energy. Not only will your decision to go solar bring you energy independence, it will also:

1.     Reduce your electric bill

2.     Increase the resale value of your home

3.     Deliver better and more secure returns than the recently increasingly volatile stock market

4.     Contribute to a cleaner environment

The concept behind solar energy is harnessing free sunlight and converting it into valuable electricity. As long as the sun keeps shining we have an endless supply of sunlight to work with (and an endless source of power that we can sell back to the power company).

The easiest way to harness sunlight is via photovoltaic (PV) solar cells inside a solar panel. Solar panels can be placed on a roof or on the ground and there are even solar tracking systems that rotate each hour to absorb the maximum amount of sunlight throughout the day.

Here’s a quick “Solar 101” on how it works:

1. Sunlight hits the PV cells and creates DC (direct current) power.

2. The DC power is then sent to a microinverter (generally located on the back of each panel) which converts it into AC (alternating current) power, which is what household appliances use. The picture below shows microinverters on the back of ground mounted solar panels.


3. The AC power goes from the microinverter to the house’s energy meter  (generally on the side of your house). When the sun is shining, power from the panels is used to power appliances, and any excess power generated from the solar panels is sent back to the grid. When that happens the power meter actually turns backwards. However, at night, when the sun is down and the panels are not producing energy, the house draws energy from the grid (local power company) and the energy meter then spins forwards. Your power company bills you for the net difference of the energy you pull from the grid minus the energy you generate on your own from solar panels.