How Photovoltaics Work

You may have heard a lot about renewable energy in the news lately, including solar panels and photovoltaic (PV) systems. The media has done a great job of making more and more people aware of the existence of solar panels as an affordable source of renewable energy. But short segments, no matter how well-researched, often don’t have the time to go into the specifics of how the solar panels actually work. If you look up information Online, it can often come from hard-to-understand sources. If you are interested in switching to a PV system in your home for economic or environmental reasons, we believe you should know just how this amazing source of renewable energy works.

If you’ve ever seen a calculator with a little patch of black squares at the top, or watched a dashboard ornament move on its own, you’ve already seen the power of the photoelectric effect. This is just what it sounds like: the power of light to create electricity. Different materials display more or less of this effect. When light, which is made up of tiny particles known as photons, hits something photoelectric, the photons push electrons out of the way—loose electrons are what is needed for electricity.

Silicon, a main ingredient used in most PV systems, is one of the best materials for this because it is a semi-conductor. As you might know, different types of material are either better or worse at moving electricity along. Metal is an excellent conductor, which is why it is used in wiring. Rubber on the other hand insulates, which is why wires are coated in it (to keep you safe). Silicon is just in the middle, have properties of both conductors and insulators. So when the sunlight hits the PV panel, the silicon absorbs the light in the form of photons and pushes out loose electrons, but without sparking like a wire. That is how one half of the system—the “battery” portion—works. You now have free electricity stored in your solar panel. So how does it get to your home for use?

Each individual panel works on its own, but they can be put together into what is known as an array, to generate even more electricity. The stored electricity is then wired to your home as it previously was when you were connected to the local grid. Solar panels can generate just as much, if not more electricity, than your home or property used to receive. But don’t worry, the amount you receive at any one time can be attuned to your needs for any voltage or current combination (AC or DC).

Now that you understand the “how,” onto the “why”:

  • Help the environment! Solar panels are a renewable source of energy. Over 25 years of using solar energy, you will have done the equivalent of planting 3400 trees, taken 25 cars off the road, and gotten rid of 120 tons of CO2 emissions. And these numbers are only based on current solar efficiency—over time your impact will be even greater.
  • Save money: Over that same 25-year span, the average Albertan will have spent $45,000 on their utility bills. A solar panel system which allows you to be completely energy independent can repay its own cost in just eight years. That’s 18 years of pure money saving in comparison.
  • Help your province achieve its goals: By 2030, Alberta has plans to completely outlaw coal because of its huge carbon footprint. By switching to solar energy now, you will be a part of the province’s energy revolution. Because of how important this is, the provincial government has set up incentives to cover the cost of installation, up to 30%. It has never been easier or more affordable to switch to solar energy!

For more information about solar energy, or to make the switch today, contact us at Enova Energy.

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