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Solar Power Tech 101

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Solar technology can be confusing. This article is supposed to teach the average homeowner about the two main pieces of technology that are utilized in a home solar system.


Photovoltaic Solar Panels

The sun emits sun ways onto the earth. This is referred to as irradiance. Here in the southwest, we have the highest irradiance in the country. The energy that comes from the sun is in a raw, uncontrolled state. Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that have silicon crystals sandwiched between glass or plastic are generally the first technology that is used to harness solar power. When the sunlight makes contact with the PV solar panels, the heat causes the silicon crystals to move, ultimately creating energy in the form of direct current (DC). This energy is volatile and we are unable to power our homes with it.


Additional Facts about PV panels

  • Silicon thickness is about 4 human hairs

  • The silicon crystals dance when they heat up from the sun

  • Silicon is the second most common natural material on earth besides oxygen


Home Solar Inverter

Once the PV solar panels generate DC energy from the solar irradiance, it is then directed through wires, into an inverter. The way this works is the energy is controlled and turned into AC electricity; which is used to power your home and appliances. To sum up, how this process works, the inverter switches the electricity back and forth in rapid succession, and this transitions the energy to the correct voltage for your house.


Besides inverting solar power, inverters also communicate with your system and your house. There are two types of home solar inverters. There is a string inverter that connects each solar panel similar to how Christmas lights are set up. There are also microinverters, and in this case, each solar panel will have a small inverter on it. The latter is more expensive but, they are more reliable. This is because of one solar panel goes down with a string inverter, it can disengage power production from other solar panels. This does not happen with micro inverters.

For additional information about technology utilized in home solar power systems, visit our technologies page or visit energy.gov

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