How does solar energy work

How does solar energy work

There are many methods of solar energy production, with them being either direct or indirect, with active and passive components. In mainstream solar production, there are two methods which are currently used for solar energy conversion. Both of these involve the use of a solar panel, but their energy production means are a bit different. These two methods are known as solar thermal and photovoltaic energy cell production.

The solar thermal method uses the sun’s energy to directly generate heat. This process works by using solar panels to collect the heat from the sun. This heat is captured and then transferred to water tanks for heating and distribution through the rest of the house. This means that production maximizes absorption of the heat generated by sun throughout the day, so energy is available for night time use as well. The tubes which absorb this energy are called thermal collectors. The in-direct alternative to this production method is using anti-freeze instead of water. Once the sun has warmed this liquid, the heat gained from this process is transferred to water held in a tank. Currently, this is the most popular form of solar panel available on the market today, with may building designs harnessing this technology.

Solar thermal energy

The Solar Thermal Method

The photovoltaic method directly transfers the sun’s power into electricity. This process uses solar cells, or photovoltaic cells to trap the sun’s heat. They are often silicon-based with wide surface area for maximum heat absorption from the sun’s rays. This method traps electricity directly, instead of using the warmth created from the sun in the thermal method. The number of these cells which is contained in one panel differs depending on the size of the panel, but these cells can be interlinked and combined for a greater production power.
The downside of this production method is that it is DC, or direct current electricity, which is unusable in most households. Therefore, an inverter is needed to transform the direct current power into AC, or alternating current power. This transformation causes a minor loss of energy, but it means the electricity is ready to use in household appliances at night time and during times of diminished sunlight. With this method, if a home is connected to the power grid, it is possible to feed any excess energy which your batteries cannot contain, back into the grid. With this method, you become your own energy producer.

Photovoltaic energy

The Photovoltaic Method

While these are the two different methods of solar production, they vary in two other different means. Direct and indirect solar energy are also applicable to production, depending on the method used to harvest the sun’s rays. Using direct solar power only involves one step in transforming it into usable energy. This method is known as electromagnetic radiation. Examples of direct solar production include sunlight striking solar cells, sunlight warming a dark surface for thermal collectors, and sunlight which is absorbed by a fiber optic cable. These are the most common forms of solar energy use, as they are what is installed in many homeowner homes which are looking to reduce their reliance on the main power grid.

Indirect solar energy involves more than one process in order to obtain usable solar energy. One example of this is biofuel, as it is made from plants which use photosynthesis to harvest the sun and convert it into chemical energy. Hydroelectric dams and wind turbines also function through indirect solar means, as water and wind can be sun powered. All ocean thermal energy is an indirect result of solar power, as the sun warms the ocean and causes different wave movements with the help of the wind.

In addition to these types of solar energy, there are also active and passive systems. Passive systems only require direct sunlight without the aid of additional energy. A good example of this is sunlight warming the home through a window. Passive solar water heaters exist for pumping water through the home to collect sunlight which warms panels on the roof.

Active systems work by using the sun’s rays, but they also contain electronic tracking devices which are used to maximize the amount of sunlight which can be collected from the sun. There are many different examples of this, such as the use of electric pumps and air blowers in the home for distribution of the energy collected from the sun. Most of these services are computer controlled, which makes them active instead of passive.

In addition to active and passive types of solar energy, there are also different focus types. These focus types of energy are called point focus, line focus, and non-focus.

A point focus type is a small disk-shaped dish which can be used to diffuse sunlight collected into a concentrated area, so that more solar radiation can be collected than normal. This is the type of focus which is used in solar cells and thermal energy receivers, as they directly convert this radiation into electricity.

Line focus is not so different from point focus, as it uses the same method, but instead of using a disk-shaped dish, it uses a trough shaped dish which collects the sun’s rays and converts them into electricity.

Non-focus systems are the most common of the focus systems and are generally what the public thinks of when they think of solar collectors. The main solar thermal panels and solar cell panels which are installed in homes across the country use the non-focus system. The advantage of using the non-focus system is that it can diffuse the sunlight without needing any further adaptation. The sunlight does not need to be concentrated, but because this system is more technologically complex, they tend to be a bit more expensive than point and line focus systems.

This is just a basic outline of how solar energy works, as it gives you some idea what the different types of solar panels which can be installed in a home can do for you. Deciding on the type of system installed in a home is often decided on how much sun the home gets, and how much wattage the homeowner wants to generate using this type of electricity.


    Sridhar Says:

    If you could put an article explaining how anyone at home could generate electricity for simple needs using solar panels, it’d be very useful. I mean , the type of solar panel, inverters, batteries etc and procedure for setting them up. If you already have it, please email it to me.

    Jim Sears Says:

    A great explanation. Thank you very much, Mr. Rutherford. Solar energy is an amazing subject.

    melanie d Says:

    i like this. solar energy explained in simple terms…thanks a lot!!!

    ahmaad Says:

    solar energy seems good, but is it a good investment opportunity? if i want to invest in it, how soon can i expect returns?

    Jim Sears Says:


    I think that the solar energy industry is a great investment opportunity. I don’t know exactly how long will it take for you to make a profit, but I’m sure it will be faster than investing it in another field.

    David Bryan Says:

    I get very confused about solar energy and the lack of general information that is out there. I am unable to ascertain as to how big a unit ie number of panels, size of inverter, is needed to accommodate usage that varies from 31kwh per day in winter to 47kwh per day in summer. Any help would be appreciated.


Leave a comment