How Does Solar Power Work?

Millions of American homes and businesses use solar energy as a source of power. Its popularity is due to its sustainability, reliability, and increasing affordability. Despite its widespread use, however, many people don’t know what solar power is or how the technology actually works.

What is Solar Energy?

Put simply, solar energy is the harvesting of light and/or heat from the Sun to produce electricity. The type of technology used for this process varies by type of customer and energy demand.

Different Types of Solar Power Systems

The three principal types of solar power systems are photovoltaic, solar heating & cooling, and concentrating solar power. Photovoltaic and solar heating & cooling systems are the predominant types used in residential and commercial properties; concentrating solar power systems are generally only used by large-scale users such as power plants. Photovoltaic systems produce electricity and solar heating & cooling systems produce heat.

Most people are familiar with the flat, glassy panels that are the main component of photovoltaic solar power systems. The panels consist of layers of silicon cells encased in glass with a metal frame. The panels are typically arranged into a pattern or array on a rooftop or other area that gets direct sunlight. The sunlight activates the silicon cells, which generate electricity that gets converted to alternating current for use by your home or business. 

Solar heating and cooling system use the heat, not light, from the Sun to generate power. They can be used to generate hot water and are a popular means of heating pools. These systems generally consist of three main components – a solar collector, insulated piping, and a hot water tank. The most common type of solar collector is a flat plate collector, which is typically a four-foot by eight-foot sheet of copper or aluminum. The collector is typically placed on an exterior wall or another area that gets direct sunlight. Heat collected by the plate then heats water which is piped into the tank for use.

How Popular is Solar Power?

Solar power is gaining popularity across the country with more than 2 million systems installed. In the New York area alone, there are currently almost 5,000 active Brooklyn solar power projects.

Is Solar Power Right for You?

Consider these factors when considering a solar power system:

  • Roof size, pitch, and direction. Your roof should be big enough to accommodate enough panels, pitched correctly (30 degrees or less), and have unobstructed access to sunlight.
  • Local rules and regulations. There may be homeowners’ association rules on installing solar panels or your local municipality may require a permit.
  • Electricity rates. If the rate you pay now is low, it may take a long time to recoup the cost of a solar system.
  • Incentives. Many state and local governments offer tax incentives and rebates for solar systems.

Converting your home or business to solar energy can be a smart decision, but there are many factors to consider. You should consult with a professional solar company to determine if solar is right for you.

Clay Miller
the authorClay Miller
I am the creator/writer of and I'm an advocate for oceans, beaches, state parks. I enjoy all things outdoors (e.g. running, golf, gardening, hiking, etc.) I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!!). I'm also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky.