How Do Solar Panels Work? A Simple Guide to Solar Technology

engineering a solar panel

How do solar panels work? Simply put, solar panels harness the sun’s rays and turn them into energy we can power our homes with.

But what exactly does this process involve?

In this simple guide, we’ll answer some of the common questions we hear from our customers about how solar panels work. We’ll explain solar technology, how solar energy is converted into power, and the role of solar batteries.

In our post, we’ll cover these common questions about how solar panels work:

  • What are solar panels made of? 
  • How do solar panels convert sunlight into energy?
  • How is DC electricity converted to AC electricity? 
  • What if I need more power than my solar system generates?
  • What happens to excess energy from my solar system?
  • Do solar panels work better on hotter days? 
  • Do solar panels work on cloudy days?
  • Will solar panels work in a blackout? 
  • Will dirty solar panels still generate energy?

What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

Solar panels are constructed of solar cells, often made from high-purity silicon. These solar cells are called photovoltaic cells.

How Do Solar Panels Convert Sunlight Into Energy?

When exposed to sunlight, the solar cells in the solar panels absorb photons (light particles). This light energy excites the electrons within the solar cells.

The excited electrons move within the wires and conductors in solar cells, creating direct current (DC) electricity.

How Is DC Electricity Converted to AC Electricity?

The DC electricity then passes through an electrical cable to a solar inverter. The solar inverter converts the DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity.

Once it is converted to alternating current electricity, it is linked to a switchboard. Now you have usable solar energy to power your home!

roofs in sydney with solar

What If I Need More Power Than My Solar System Generates?

Aside from off-grid solar systems, solar panel systems are still connected to the electrical grid. That means your system can draw electricity from the grid if you need more power or are using electronics at night or on stormy days. 

What Happens to Excess Energy Generated By Solar Panels?

If your solar panels generate more electricity than you use, you have two options: 

  1. Export extra electricity back to the grid
  2. Use excess energy to charge a solar battery to use the energy later

If you choose to export extra electricity back to the grid, you may be paid a feed-in tariff if you qualify. This can reduce your electricity bills even further.

Incorporating a solar battery into your solar panel system allows extra energy to be stored for later use. This option is especially beneficial for homeowners who still want to use solar energy to power their home at night, during storms, or on overcast days.

Do Solar Panels Work Better on Hotter Days?

Many people assume that our soaring temperatures and frequent sunny days in Australia mean more solar energy will be generated.

However, too much heat can lower the efficiency of solar panels. This means the cooler temperatures of spring and autumn are ideal times for the most efficient solar energy production.

For an in-depth look at how solar panels work in different weather conditions, read our blog post here on how weather affects solar panels and production.

Do Solar Panels Work When It’s Cloudy or Rainy? 

“Will my solar panels work when it’s cloudy?” This is a question we get almost every day from customers, and we understand the concern. Even with the ample sunshine in Australia, we do get plenty of dreary, cloudy days too. 

Although thick cloud cover or storms will stop energy production, partly cloudy or mostly cloudy days can still generate solar energy. Light rays can still penetrate clouds, allowing light particles to be absorbed by the solar cells. 

If you want the ability to use solar energy on extremely cloudy days or at night, ask us about incorporating a solar battery into your solar power system.  

Will Solar Panels Work in a Blackout?

If your solar panels are connected to the grid, your solar system will not work during a blackout. This is a protective measure put in place to prevent utility repair workers and emergency responders from being electrocuted by panels sending excess power back to the electrical grid.

If you want to learn about backup power options in a blackout, ask us about solar battery options or other recommendations.

What Are the Benefits of Solar Energy?

Some of the many benefits of solar energy include:

  • Reliable energy supply
  • Protection against rising energy costs 
  • Environmentally-friendly
  • Increased independence from the electrical grid
  • Source of clean, renewable energy
  • Quiet energy production (unlike wind turbines)
  • No harmful emissions
  • Reduced energy bills

testing solar panel

Can Solar Panels Still Work If They Are Dirty or Dusty?

One of the most common solar panel myths we hear is that they are high maintenance. Fortunately, solar panel maintenance is straightforward and minimal.

The most important part of solar panel maintenance is keeping the panels free of dust and debris. If the panels become caked with debris, the solar cells cannot absorb as much light and you’ll likely see a decrease in energy production.

Often, the rain does much of the work to clean off solar panels. Still, cleaning the solar panels about twice a year is the general recommendation.

Here are other tips we recommend for maintaining solar panels:

  • Always check the manufacturer’s cleaning and maintenance instructions to ensure you do not void the warranty 
  • After a storm, we recommend making sure any leaves or sticks are cleared off the panels right away
  • If you notice cracks or damage to your solar panels, contact a solar technician right away
  • Schedule an annual professional inspection to make sure your panels are free of damage and operating as they should 
  • Keep any nearby limbs or branches trimmed and well away from your solar panel system
  • Monitor your roof for leaks or signs of damage and have any issues repaired promptly

Read more about keeping your solar panels clean here in Our Simple Guide to Solar Panel Maintenance.

How Do Solar Panels Work for me?

The good news is, you don’t need to understand the technical aspects of a solar panel system for it to work for you.

Interested in residential solar panel installation? Our solar technicians are ready to design an efficient, affordable solar panel system that fits your location, setup, and energy needs.

If you’d like to find out if solar is right for your home, get in touch with our team by filling out our general online contact form