How does Solar Power work for you? Well, Solar Energy can be harvested in two ways: actively and passively. Meaning that in the active way we create electricity from the sun’s rays and in the passive way we just use the sun’s warming power to heat up water – so you have a warm shower without needing to use electricity to heat it up anymore.
So with both ways we find means to absorb the sun’s energy into a system we can benefit from and make our lives easier. So we can install a piping system on our roof and pump up cold water, let it warm up in the long piping there (you would want to have many slopes of pipes up there, so a lot of water can be on your roof roasting in the sun while you do something else. Then the pump will slowly circulate the water between the tank and the roof, so you have hot water for heating or your bathroom all the time. This is about the most efficient way to use solar power, because nearly 100 % of the solar energy are “transmitted” into the water. Even the best solar panels today only have an “efficiency” of about 18%. And these panels are still lab prototypes.
Cheapest way to make solar power work
So the cheapest way to lower your energy bill is to install a passive solar heating system. For example, if your radiators in your rooms also are run by heating water (as most European radiators are), you could not only heat your bath with solar energy, but also your living room. And even in winter, the sun can at least do part of the heating job. And by that save you money. So speak to a local installer how much effort it would mean to install such a system for you.
But to answer the question “how does solar power work” in a passive way: The wavelength of the sun’s rays which we experience as heat is easily absorbed by the water flowing slowly in a -ideally black- piping system on your roof. Water is an ideal carrier of heat energy. Other than for example air, which is a pretty bad conductor for energy like heat (neither for ie. electricity), water easily “takes in” the heat energy and stores it pretty well if isolated (we need an isolated tank for this). So water is an excellent way to acquire and store the solar power. We need no real technology other than piping and pumps to make full use of the solar energy for our homes.
How does Solar Power work actively?
How does Solar Power work?
In contrast, trying to get electricity from the solar rays needs a far advanced technology. Though there are steps in between – huge solar plants still have the sun heat up water to make steam and then run a turbine with it, thus creating electricity – the only way to actively produce electricity to light is to find materials which produce a current under sun exposure.
So while using solar power to heat water is as old as the ancient Greeks and probably older, the first solar cell was only invented in the 1950s. Here a material (there are different technologies and materials today) under exposure to the sun starts to produce a current of electrons – electricity.
How does this solar power creation work? Well, the material this solar cell is made of has special characteristics. Because of this characteristic to emit electrons under sunlight it was chosen in the first place. So whenever some sunlight hits this material, the atomic structure of this stuff is getting “excited” . It is like boiling water. The hotter the water gets (more energy stored), the more excited the water molecules become and start to jump around frantically. Until the water boils, and out of water as a liquid becomes steam. Steam is still water, but the molecules are so excited that their jumping around takes much more space and so the liquid becomes steam. But water is so stable that we would need to heat it up much further to actually break down its molecular structure H2O.
It is similar process within this current producing material. The sun sends energy and works like a pump, pumping energy into the material. It’s atoms become excited and the electrons – the negatively charged parts of an atom, circling around the nucleus like Earth circles around our sun – start to jump from nucleus to nucleus pushing further the then “residing” electrons. So a current of electrons is created, with the solar power as the “pump”. If we now attach a meter to this solar cell we will see that a low current is created. This current wouldn’t be enough to power our homes, but if we connect enough of these solar cells we get a solar panel and if we connect of those, we have a solar system. Now this system creates enough current to light our homes (depending on the size, the amount of sun exposure and the collectors’ efficiency).
And what happens when the sun does not shine? Well, we still have our tank of warm water. But it is harder to store electricity. So modern installation come with a battery to store the electricity.
I hope this answers your “how does solar power work” question?