How Solar Energy Panels Work


You've heard the buzz about alternative energy sources but have you ever wondered how solar energy panels work? Of course, if you want to install a system for your home, you want to understand something about how you'll get energy from the sun and how it can benefit you.

You've probably used a solar powered calculator for doing mathematic problems. You know the kind; as long as the calculator is exposed to light, it operates perfectly. Did you know that there are portable solar energy panels that you could use to operate a laptop computer, a radio or CD player, a cell phone, digital camera or other small appliance when camping, hiking or even when sitting beside your swimming pool? These small, flexible solar energy panels roll up for storage in a small space and simply unroll for placement in the bright sunshine when you want a little power to run a small electric device. These solar panels function pretty much the same as a large roof-top solar collector panel.

These solar collection cells, whether large or small, are called photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic, when broken down, is easy to understand. "Photo" means light and "voltaic" means electric; the word means electricity from light. These devices were invented to power satellites and devices in space but now are in use all over the world in households.

Solar energy panels, also called photovoltaic (PV) panels, are made of material that concentrate the sun's rays. When the sun's rays strike a PV panel, some of the energy can be absorbed by the panel. This can be used to heat water passing through pipes in the solar energy panel. It can be absorbed by semiconductor material and used to generate electricity.

When PV cells collect electrons from the light being absorbed, these electrons flow in a single direction because of the electric fields they contain. The flow of electrons is controlled by the use of metal contacts at the top and bottom of the solar energy panel so that current can be extracted for use. This can power the small appliance or used to power an entire house.

Using solar energy panels for collecting the sun's power for home use can be quite simple. They usually consist of a black metal or wooden box that is designed to be the right size for placement on the roof of the house where it will be installed. The box is well insulated and is always black on the inside to help focus the sun's energy and absorb it most efficiently. Inside the box may be semiconductor material or piping.

If hot water is being generated, the box will contain zigzag patterns of copper piping through which the water will pass, becoming hot from the energy of the sun. If the solar energy panel is used in this way, the heated water will then pass into a storage tank which is very well insulated and may be created from an altered traditional hot water heating tank. The water is then used when required by simply turning on a water tap in the bathtub, sink or when the hot water valve opens when operating the washer or dishwasher. The occupants of the home never realize the hot water is not being heating in a traditional manner using electricity or gas from the utility company. A carefully designed system can provide enough hot water for any family's needs.

If the solar energy panel is used to create electricity, the current is stored inside the home in batteries somewhat like the one you've seen in your car. Usually there is a bank of several batteries that store the electricity. A control unit makes sure the right amount of voltage and amperage goes into the electric wires when someone turns on a light switch, when the home's heat or air conditioning comes on, or other demand is placed on the batteries to supply their stored electric power to the house.

Of course, it is a bit more complex if you get into all the engineering details. This is, however, a basic explanation of how solar energy panels can provide for your energy needs.

About the Author: Anita van Wyk strives to make make more people aware of the benefits of using solar energy through her website

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