How Does Solar Energy Work and How Do We Use It in Our Homes?

As the name suggests, solar energy is generated by the sun. But how does solar power actually work? This is a question many people are unsure of, but with climbing energy rates, more people are looking for a more affordable and sustainable energy source. Continue reading to find out what solar energy actually is, how solar panels work along with solar technology in general, and how solar power can be used in the home.

What Is Solar Energy?

The earth relies heavily on the sun. It warms us, grows our crops, gives us light, and so on. In fact, we have to be very grateful for what the sun provides us. Of course, the list doesn’t stop there. Those who harness the power of solar energy can even thank the sun for warm water, electricity, and heated homes without whopping electricity bills! The sun naturally produces “packets of energy” continuously because it is a natural nuclear reactor. Solar energy harnesses the sun’s energy to use privately or commercially. It is considered a renewable energy source that is the most sustainable form of energy, especially when compared to our current non-renewable forms.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

So, as we’ve established, the sun emits countless packets of energy every second that it's in the sky. These energy packets are called photons and they have the ability to reach the earth in around nine minutes, which is insanely fast considering that the sun is about 93 million miles away. In fact, scientists have said that the number of photons that reach the earth in just one hour, would be enough to power the world for a whole year, and we would never need to use fossil fuels again, theoretically speaking. Once the sun’s light hits certain materials, it forms an electrical current which is how solar energy is created and how it can produce electricity and heat homes.

Solar Water Heaters

A very common use of solar energy to generate electricity is the replacement of gas or electricity to heat water. There are two categories of solar water heaters, active water heaters, and passive water heaters. Again, there are more subcategories underneath these, but they are the two primary categories. Active water heating systems typically include a direct circulation or an indirect circulation process. Direct circulation makes use of a pump to push the water flow through the necessary collectors and pipes and into the home for use. The direct circulation model of the active water heater system is used mostly in areas that predominantly has excellent weather all year round or, to be more precise, in regions that don’t freeze during the winter months. As you may have guessed, the indirect water heating system is used, particularly in climates that experience freezing temperatures. The indirect water heating system circulates a non-freezing liquid through the water volume and through the heat exchanger which prevents the water from freezing.

Solar Water Heaters

Passive water heating systems are slightly less common but are much cheaper than active water heating systems. The price difference is generally because passive water heating systems aren’t as efficient as active ones. An integral collector-storage passive water system is built for climates that have warm weather all year round as the solar collecting specifications are built into the water tank. It heats the water throughout the day when the sun is shining, but the water can cool down during the night. These are mostly used for small apartments. Thermosyphon is another passive water heating system and it is designed for the solar collector specifications to be situated at a lower level than the water tank. Once the solar energy warms up the water, the solar collector rises in the tank. These are normally installed on rooftops which can make the installation a slightly lengthy process. 

Solar Panels

Of all of the solar energy systems, probably the most desired use for solar energy and getting off the grid is the solar panel. Almost every solar panel with solar cells is installed on the roof, which means that they won't take up ample space in the backyard and you will probably forget they are even there. Solar panels can be costly to install. However, there are many benefits to having them, and they could also increase the price of your house. When the sun’s light hits the solar panels and the solar cells, it generates an electrical charge (solar power). Then an inverter converts the current from DC electricity to AC electricity, which is what is used in the home’s main electrical panel. This current can then be used the exact same way as electricity from a utility company. Light your home, watch TV, charge devices, anything that requires electricity will now function from solar powered electricity. Better still, any excess energy from your energy storage can be sold back to your local electricity company.

Whole-House Hot Water System

This system works very similarly to the solar water systems mentioned above; however, they are on a much larger scale. Not only will a whole-house hot water system heat your water but it can also send hot water to radiators and underfloor heating. These intelligent systems have advanced circulation features which are needed in order to provide hot water for heating the entire home and hot water from the faucets. To accommodate these requirements, the setup is extensive and in-depth. It includes substantial water tanks as well as larger solar collector panels. Due to its capabilities, a whole-house hot water system is the more expensive option and is mostly used for businesses.    

Hot Air Solar Systems

To achieve whole-house heating by using solar energy a large system isn’t the only option. Hot air solar systems work by collecting the air that has been heated by the sun and strategically deploying it throughout the home. So, rather than heating a home from hot water being pumped around radiators, it is heated with hot air. Typically, these systems have a type of fan mechanism built in, which is what gets the air circulating, but hot air solar systems are most effective in heating individual rooms. 

As you can see, there are many ways to incorporate solar energy into your home and generate electricity through solar power systems, although not all of the options are suitable for everyone. That being said, there are plenty of available methods to start using renewable clean energy to dramatically cut the costs of energy bills and to reduce your carbon footprint.

Laura Day
 

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