Driving through the streets and neighbourhoods in Britain, it is clear to see there has been a considerable rise in homeowners choosing to install solar panels and produce their electricity in recent years. But what is solar power? And how does it work?
It was the French physicist Edmund Becquerel in 1839 who discovered that certain materials could produce a small electric current when exposed to the light. Photovoltaic Solar Panels now use this principle – the most commonly used solar panels in UK homes, with ‘photo’ meaning light, and ‘voltaic’ saying to do with electricity.
Solar Cells and Solar Power
Solar cells are the small devices that convert sunlight to electricity-generating a small amount of power. Several solar cells fixed together in a frame produce a solar panel – which is what you see on houses around Britain. A solar-powered home is said to now generate between 75% and 100% of its power, allowing homeowners to save on electricity bills immediately.
Over the years, with the advance in technology, panels have become much smaller and much cheaper, and are now efficient and affordable for domestic use. This also means that these practical, smaller panels can still harness clean solar power energy from a virtually limitless supply.
Thankfully, for us Brits, the sun doesn’t have to be out and shining bright for solar panels to work. Although solar panels will indeed produce more power on a sunny day, energy can still be provided on a cloudy day. Solar panels use the simple rule of ‘more light = more power’ to generate solar power, as Photovoltaic solar panels use light, not heat to work. The length of the day also affects the amount of electricity produced, so in the summer when the days are longer there is a better chance of charging up your mobile phone!
Photons, light in the form of energy particles, from the sun are absorbed by the silicon in the photovoltaic cells and then freed as electrons through the bottom of the cell and then through wires as electricity. This DC power can then, through an inverter, be converted into AC power to be used in your home.
Any solar energy you do not immediately use will be stored in the electrical grid through the meter. This means that at night, or a miserable day when your system is not producing more energy than your building needs, it can use the energy stored in the electrical grid as usual.
Solar power is indispensable and unlimited. It’s clean, non-polluted and extremely versatile. It can be used to help grow food and fuel, light, heat and modulate the temperatures in our homes, and more – basically Solar is enormous. The more advanced technology becomes, the more efficient solar panels are, and then the more popular generating your solar power within your own homes will become.