A solar energy system creates usable power from sunshine. The two most commonly used types of solar energy technology in the Midwest are photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar thermal collectors. PV uses sunlight to generate electricity. It’s the same technology found on pocket calculators, just on a larger scale. Thermal solar uses sunlight to heat water, usually for a hot water supply.
PV panels contain a semiconductor material (typically silicon-based) which converts sunlight into direct-current (DC) electricity. Solar Electric systems generate electricity silently and without any moving parts. Sunlight falls on the solar array (blue, on the roof), generating DC electricity. That DC electricity is converted into household 120V AC electricity by the inverter (blue & gray, on the wall). The AC electricity is fed into your electric meter and circuit breaker panel (gray, on the wall). The electricity either goes to your appliances and lights, or to the grid, or some to each. This all happens silently and automatically every day.
At night and during cloudy weather, the solar system’s output is reduced or stopped; your building then gets electricity directly from the utility grid. You’re always connected to the grid, so you can have as much power as you need, any time you need it, regardless of whether the solar system is able to put out any power.
When the solar system can put out power, it goes to reducing your usage at the time, or, if there is excess, to spinning the meter backwards, counting down your electric use and bill.
Solar Electricity is one of the fastest growing energy technologies worldwide, growing over 35% each year for the last 8 years. Not actually a ‘new’ technology, the first solar panel was put into use in 1954. Most of the bigger solar manufacturers have over 20 years of experience in producing and refining their products. Some have over 40 years of experience.