How Solar Works

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The numbers don’t lie: solar panel systems make good financial, environmental and economic investments. But these numbers reflect the grand scheme of things. How do solar panels work logistically on a small scale? Are they really a viable alternative to traditional electricity for New York and New Jersey residents?

Solar Panel Questions

How do photovoltaic cells work?

Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic modules, are comprised of many PV cells, each of which is made from a semiconductor, such as silicon. When light particles, called photons, hit a solar panel, the semiconductors change at the atomic level and electrons are knocked loose. If the semiconductor is specially treated to form an electric field, the electrons can be captured as an electric current – or in other words, electricity. Several solar panels wired together form an array and are capable of powering a whole house or even an entire city.

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Solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity.

A control device converts the electricity from DC to AC, enabling it to power items in your home.

The converted electricity passes through a breaker box to the outlets in your home.

Your home is now powered by the sun! Any extra electricity is sent back to the utility company and credited on the grid.

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    Solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity.

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    A control device converts the electricity from DC to AC, enabling it to power items in your home.

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    The converted electricity passes through a breaker box to the outlets in your home.

  • icon

    Your home is now powered by the sun! Any extra electricity is sent back to the utility company and credited on the grid.

The power of the sun
in the palm of your hand.

With the SunPower® app, it’s easy to monitor your solar system no matter where you are. The clean interface displays:

  • kW of electricity that your system is generating.
  • Mix of solar energy vs. energy being used from the grid.
  • Environmental savings equivalent to CO2 emissions avoided, miles not driven and tress grown for 10 years.
  • Custom filters to monitor solar generated, solar used and your bill savings over time.
Do solar panels store energy or use it instantly?

Do solar panels store energy or use it instantly?

Energy is used instantly, but there are exceptions.

Solar cells themselves are not storage devices. They merely convert sunlight into electric current. Traditional solar arrays are grid-tied and use the power they generate on the spot, sending excess electricity back to the grid to be used elsewhere.

Another option is to install a backup battery bank to store excess energy. It may surprise you to learn this isn’t the norm. Battery backups increase the cost of solar installations by as much as 25%, and they don’t increase productivity enough to justify the cost in grid-tied systems. A same-sized solar array without a battery backup only yields about 7-10% less energy.

How well do solar panels perform in winter?

How well do solar panels perform in winter?

It's less of an issue than you may think.

On sunny winter days, solar panels are nearly as productive as on sunny summer days. The sun’s decreased intensity and shorter time in the sky are all that limit electricity production this time of year.

But, there’s no denying it – heavy snow is common in New York and New Jersey. If solar modules become covered with snow, they receive no sunlight and electricity production stops, but with solar panel monitoring, you receive an alert letting you know something is blocking the solar panel. Then it’s up to you. Usually, it doesn’t take too long for the sun to melt the snow after a light snowstorm.

What about overcast days and nighttime?

What about overcast days and nighttime?

It's almost a non-issue.

On overcast days, a sufficient amount of diffused light still passes through the clouds to produce some electricity. Cloud cover reduces electrical production by about 50%. This sounds like a huge productivity loss, but in New York and New Jersey, it’s sunny or partly sunny over 200 days of the year. This means overcast conditions are certainly not a deal breaker for going solar.

In addition, unless you have a battery array, you will not be able to rely on your solar panels for electricity after dark. Fortunately, if you remain tied to the grid, your utility company makes up the difference. Since air conditioning requirements die down after dark and most people sleep all night, the demand for electricity during the wee hours is quite low.

How much energy comes from solar vs. electric?

How much energy comes from solar vs. electric?

It depends on the size of your array.

It all depends on how many solar panels you install. For both grid-tied and off-grid systems with batteries, the goal is to produce as close to 100% of the home’s electrical load as possible and these arrays are sized accordingly. The higher upfront cost of purchasing panels for a larger array is often restrictive, though you can easily expand your array to meet a higher percentage of your home’s electrical load later down the road.

In the end, solar energy production may fluctuate by season and time of day, but as long as you remain grid-tied, you never have to worry about the power going out.

So, are you ready to get started?