Inside Your System: How Home Solar WorksJune 10, 2021
Over the past decade, the cost (and ease) of owning and operating a home solar system has dropped significantly. In fact, according to a 2020 PV Magazine article, “since 2010, the cost of energy has dropped by 82% for photovoltaic solar.” This stat signals that now may be one of the best times to invest in home solar power.
Governments worldwide, including right here in the United States, continue to increase the ease and incentives when it comes to adding solar to your home. With the Biden Administration’s dedication to green energy becoming more and more apparent, alongside Governor Baker’s recent signing of “An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy,” the path towards a solar-powered home is more accessible than ever.
With all these exciting developments and milestones within the solar world, we thought that this presented an excellent opportunity for a refresher on how home solar power works and the benefits that it can provide you, your family, and your community.
First, let’s take a closer look at solar energy itself.
What Is Solar Energy?
For billions of years, the sun has produced an unimaginable amount of renewable energy. It’s a resource that we can see and feel daily, yet we have only begun to harness the awe-inspiring power that comes from its solar radiation.
Essentially, solar radiation is light. When the sun rises across the horizon, illuminating your home and your community – touching your skin with its warmth, that’s solar radiation. This radiation is also called electromagnetic radiation.
While the sun’s usefulness has never been in question, for long stretches of our existence, humanity has only received a fraction-of-a-fraction of the resources that sunlight provides. Over time, we have developed technologies, such as solar panels, to more fully harness the sun’s radiation, turning it into (yup, you guessed it) solar energy.
This energy is then transformed into usable electricity, allowing it to sustainably power space stations, airplanes, commercial facilities, personal devices, and now, more accessible than ever, homes within your community.
Solar Tech: Photovoltaics (PV) vs. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)
When it comes to harnessing the sun’s energy, there are two main methods—photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) systems.
PV Solar Systems
PV systems are the solar panels that can be commonly seen on the rooftops of homes or in the middle of sun-soaked fields. As we’ll outline further below, when sunlight strikes these panels, the cells absorb the photons, converting them into sustainable home energy.
CSP Solar Systems
Unless you work in the commercial or government sectors of solar energy, you probably don’t have to know much about concentrating solar power systems. According to energy.gov, CSP is “primarily used in very large power plants,” using “mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat, which can then be used to produce electricity.” These systems are not appropriate for residential use.
How Do Solar Panels Capture Sunlight?
Residential solar (or PV) panels installed onto rooftops are specifically engineered to capture direct sunlight, converting that sunlight into renewable energy. While the advancements made in solar panels continue to evolve, becoming more and more technologically advanced, efficient, and streamlined, the high-level process of capturing sunlight and turning that sunlight into energy is actually pretty simple.
1. Sun Rays (Photons) Are Captured By Your Solar Panels
Throughout the day, especially during peak sunlight hours, rays of sunlight constantly strike your solar panels. When this happens, your PV panels capture the photons within the rays of sunlight, producing direct current (DC) electricity.
2. Direct Current (DC) Is Converted To Alternating Current (AC)
The captured photons are then delivered to your home’s solar inverter. From there, direct current is converted to alternating current (AC), the most common form of electricity used by homes and other residential properties.
3. Converted Solar Energy Is Fed Into Your Home
The converted AC energy is then ready for residential use and fed into your home via your connected electrical service panel. This is when your home receives the clean, sustainable solar power that you seek, reducing your reliance on the electrical grid, becoming not only an investment in sustainable energy but also helps reduce the stress of your local community power grid.
4. Back To The Grid (Or Solar Battery Storage)
If your solar system’s energy production exceeds the amount needed to power your home, that energy is then either fed back into the grid, or stored within an optional solar battery storage system.
Many systems and storage options offer mobile apps or tracking devices that allow you to monitor your overall energy usage, comprehensively breaking down grid energy consumption vs. solar energy consumption vs. solar storage (if applicable).
Net Metering & Solar Battery Storage
Net Metering, Billing Credits, And Other Solar Incentives
Many states, including Massachusetts, have policies in place that allow home solar systems to transfer energy back into the grid, typically in exchange for monthly billing credits, called Net Metering. In Massachusetts, these credits roll over month after month and never expire.
Be sure to read through our comprehensive breakdowns of the annual Federal and State Solar Incentives and Tax Credits, and Net Metering policies for more in-depth information and how these practices can further increase the benefits of your solar investment.
Solar Battery Storage
An optional add-on to your home’s solar system that is becoming increasingly streamlined, affordable, and popular is solar battery storage. Instead of sending excess solar energy produced during daylight hours back to the grid, solar batteries allow that energy to first be stored within your storage system.
This stored energy can then be consumed at night or as a short-term power backup during grid power outages. After your solar batteries are filled, the rest of the excess energy produced is still sent back to the grid.
Professional Home Solar Installation
If this all sounds a bit technical, worry not! Qualified, experienced residential solar installation professionals are available for initial solar consultation, installation, and panel maintenance services.
From there, these state-of-the-art home solar systems do most of the heavy lifting for you, allowing you to fuel your home via sustainable, green solar energy and providing the opportunity for financial benefits.