Home » Solar Panels » How Do Solar Panels Work?

While the popularity and interest surrounding solar energy have grown tremendously in recent years, many homeowners still have lingering questions about the costs and benefits of installing a solar system. While it’s true that solar energy use has become more cost-effective in recent years, installing a solar system does require specific planning and enough initial capital to afford the upfront costs. Here is a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about how solar panels work, and how to maximize savings on your bills while helping to save the planet.

Step by step guide

First, the sunlight activates the panel. Each and every individual panel is constructed of a layer of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass casing surrounded by a special film, and wiring. These panels are then grouped together into “arrays” (an ordered series) and placed on rooftops or in large outdoor spaces. Using the solar cells as power, they absorb sunlight during daylight hours.

Photovoltaic cells have two layers of silicon embedded with small amounts of other substances that negatively and positively charge when exposed to light, forming an electric field. When directly hit with sunlight, these charged materials release free electrons. An electrical conduction process then produces an electric current to power any device no matter the size or wattage.

When a sufficiently large electrical field is applied across a semiconductor wafer, the electrons in the wafer leap into motion. This motion generates an electric current.

You’ve probably heard that you can use solar energy to power your home. That’s part of the truth. The other part is that the electricity produced would be direct current (DC), which isn’t fit for most household applications. To correct that, you need an inverter, which changes your DC electricity into alternating current (AC).

Solar power systems are usually equipped with modern high-tech inverter equipment that allows the panels to produce power independently and supply it to a variety of appliances. Solar power systems harness the power of the sun to provide clean, quiet, and affordable electricity for your home. When solar energy is converted from DC to AC electricity, it runs through your electrical panel and is distributed within the home to power your appliances.

In order to independently monitor the energy captured by your solar shingles or panels, a power meter is used to measure the electricity flowing in both directions—into and from your home. Net metering is a policy that provides homeowners and businesses the opportunity to receive credits for any surplus electricity they provide back to the grid.


Do solar panels work when there is no electricity?

Solar battery stores excess energy generated by your solar panels during the day to use at a later time. For example, at night or on particularly cloudy days when your panels aren’t generating as much energy.

Solar batteries are usually connected to the main grid so they can contribute electricity to the grid at any time. In case of a power cut, the electricity being generated by solar panels and exported into the grid will not be available in homes with solar battery backups. Make sure to find out if your solar energy has backup functionality. Most solar batteries do, and this means you can still use your solar energy during a power cut.

What are the main disadvantages of solar energy?

Solar panel systems have a fairly high upfront cost. In fact, the average cost in the US is around $14,400. However, once your panels are installed, you’ll start seeing returns— about $25 to $50 per month over 20 years. Although the upfront costs are quite high, the payback on investment is relatively quick. If you purchase an average-sized 6 kW solar panel system, you can expect to see all of your money back within five years.

While the up-front cost of a solar system is quite expensive, there are financing options available that help you save money on your electric bill and decrease the size of your initial investment. Understanding the solar energy limitations is critical to understanding the benefits that solar panels can deliver and how this technology fits into our society’s future. Solar panels do not generate power at night. The angle of the sun and the time of day both affect the intensity of its rays. Cloud cover can also affect how much energy is produced by solar panels.

However, with a backup system and the right amount of sunlight during the day, solar panels can continue to provide electricity even in the evening hours or on cloudy days. The angle of the sun and the time of day both affect the intensity of its rays. Cloud cover can also affect how much energy is produced by solar panels.

Do you really save money with solar panels?

The amount of energy you will save with solar panels depends on several factors. First, the time of day your panels are exposed to direct sunlight influences how much electricity you’ll produce (the sun is strongest around midday). Factors like the angle and slope of your roof also play an important role. Your local electricity rates are also a big factor since they greatly affect how much you’ll pay for monthly energy bills.

For most homes, the easiest way to figure out the percentage of your electricity costs from clean energy is to look at your last energy bill. For the average American family, that’s about 15% of the costs.

Installing a solar panel system is an investment in your future. Solar energy costs are expected to increase, which means that solar panel systems would increase in price over time. For example, if you’re considering a solar panel system with an estimated cost of $15,000, the lifespan of this option would be approximately 20 years. Over this period, you would save around $124 dollars per month.

As the average utility rate increases, you will have to pay more and more each year for your electricity. Generating your own electricity with solar panels costs the same every year, so you can rest easy knowing that you will not face a sudden increase in power costs.

Solar panels are a sustainable energy source that lasts for around 25 years on average, though some can last for more than 50 years. This means 15 full years providing free energy and reducing your carbon footprint.


Do I have enough space?

Solar panels will depend on a number of factors – the amount of home you have that receives sufficient sunlight, the time of day, weather conditions, and the orientation of your property in reference to the sun.

Depending on the size of your roof, solar panels may help you generate 25-50% of your electricity.


Is roof orientation important?

Contrary to what one would expect, the direction that your roof faces has a significant impact on solar panel output — this is especially true in southern latitudes where the position of the sun at midday can differ by hundreds of degrees the rest of the month.

Solar panels are most efficient when they face directly south, but they’re still useful even if your roof isn’t ideally located. In snowy Minnesota, many people put theirs on a north-facing slope. And in California, where it’s sunny year-round, they install panels on their west-facing roofs. With the right angle, you can save money – and help address climate change – while enjoying free energy from the sun!

The amount of electricity generated from a solar panel depends on its direction relative to the sun. Panels facing directly east or west, for example, produce 20 percent less electricity than those facing south. While this may mean that you’ll need to install a few more panels than you would otherwise need to cover your electricity usage, it may not have a significant impact on how quickly your investment pays off.

While it’s technically possible to install solar panels on the north side of your roof, they produce less electricity than panels installed on other aspects of your roof. There are special mounts that allow the panels to oppose the slant of the roof for proper alignment. This allows them to sit flush with the surface of the roof.

Although a north-facing roof is generally the most suitable option, other installation options exist. A ground-mounted installation can be used for larger arrays (in excess of a roof-sized array) where roof space is not available, or for commercial users where aesthetics are less of an issue than with residential installations. An array installed on a carport is another example where alternative installation options exist.


Why angles matter with rooftop solar

Just like many other factors influencing solar power production, the financial impact of a decrease in output related to a change in installation angle depends on electricity prices in your specific market.

The effect of a slightly less favorable environment when your roof has a downward slope on the production of solar panels is not significant in most markets today. This may change when solar electricity becomes competitive with that produced by conventional power plants.

If you live in New York where electricity is more expensive, decreasing your panels’ tilt to 5° will lower production by about 10 percent. Although this decreases your optimal annual savings by $115, you still save nearly $980 per year. Because you live in a high cost area, your savings over time will grow even faster.

In Washington, D.C., the difference is marginal—here, the angle of your roof does not greatly influence energy production. Although this may be surprising, it’s worth noting that electricity costs are in the low $0.10/kWh range. This means that although solar panels will produce slightly less energy in D.C., savings will still be substantial.

Solar panels are a long-term investment. The federal government encourages the adoption of solar energy through tax breaks and renewable energy certificates (RECs). In addition, property owners can often find additional savings through federal, state, and local programs that offer incentives such as tax breaks, rebates, or–if you’re in D.C.–solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs). The bottom line is, even if your solar panels don’t sit at the perfect angle, they can


Save with Solar

Solar energy is not just for the rich. You don’t have to live in Arizona or Florida to take advantage of solar power. Solar works in all 50 states, regardless of whether you get a lot of sun or not. The only question is how much you pay for electricity now, which determines how much you will save over time with solar.

Solar is an incredible investment. The upfront cost of purchasing a solar energy system today can seem like a big investment, especially if you consider how much money you save in electricity costs year after year.



In early 2019 the United States crossed a major milestone in solar energy, surpassing 2 million solar systems installed. Reflecting America’s increased use of renewable energy sources—especially solar—the solar industry has seen rapid growth as it thrives. According to the latest projections from bridge2renewables.org, which was created by law and policy experts at The George Washington University Solar Institute, the industry is on track to hit 4 million installations in 2023, making solar technology an integral part.

By choosing to use photovoltaic panels to go solar, you’re choosing the perfect renewable energy option for your home or business.