Solar Energy 101

Our Sun: the naturally occurring nuclear reactor A report from the International Energy Agency states that by 2050 solar energy has the potential to become the largest global source of electricity. The sun is a gigantic star at the center of the Solar System and is the most important source of energy for life on Earth. It is a crucial factor in photosynthesis, in which vegetables and other organisms utilize sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. In terms of power, it releases small packets of energy called photons, which have enough intensity to travel 93 million miles to reach the Earth in less than nine minutes. Theoretically, the amount of solar radiation that impacts the Earth in one hour can satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. However, solar-derived power currently only accounts for just four-tenths of one percent of total energy consumed in the United States. Fortunately, solar technology efficiency is improving and costs are becoming favorable for homeowners which means in the coming years we will be enjoying the incredible benefits of solar generated power. Electricity There are two types of currents – DC (direct current) and AC (alternating current). The simplest example of DC current is powering a light bulb. To light a bulb, packets of electrons or in other words current flows in one direction around a circuit. The current starts at the negative side, runs through the lamp and returns to the positive side of the power source (battery). AC electricity is an electric current which periodically reverses direction. The outlets in our homes provide AC current at a frequency of 60 hertz. Meaning, 60 times every second the electrons in the wire change direction. The U.S. electrical power grid utilizes AC current because it is cheaper to transmit over long distances. Solar Panels Photovoltaic solar panels are composed of silicon solar cells, which converts sunlight directly into electricity. This occurs from the photovoltaic effect which is the process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage). In 1954, it was discovered that silicon created an electric charge when exposed to solar radiation. Solar panels are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer which in turn create an electric field just like a battery. When solar radiation hits solar cells, electrons become detached from their atoms. Conductors are then attached to positive and negative terminals of the cell and an electrical circuit is formed. When the photons flow through the circuit electricity is generated. A panel is composed of many solar cells and multiple solar panels create a solar array when wired together. The more panels you wire together, the more energy you can generate directly from the sun without any external costs. Inverters Since PV solar panels create DC (direct current) a solar inverter is required to create AC (alternating current). Solar inverters also aid in ground fault protection and system data collection. Inverters play a huge role in solar arrays because they analyze data including voltage and current on AC circuits, energy production and maximum power point tracking. Integrated Solar System

This is a simple schematic representation of the process of generating electricity for a home from solar panels. When electricity generated is not being utilized by people in the house, the solar energy generated flows back into the grid to the local utility. However, the homeowner benefits through a system called “net metering”. Excess power generated by your solar array is sent out to the grid and in exchange the grid will cover your energy consumption during night time. A net meter is used to record the energy sent out compared to energy received from the grid. We are on the verge of a solar revolution and we at Private Energy Informational Fund believe knowledge is key for a smooth and beneficial transition to solar .


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