How Solar Works: Explained

Inside each solar panel, the magic happens mostly because of Silicon, a semiconductor found in sand. This means it can sometimes conduct electricity, especially when treated properly. Silicon in solar panels is specially treated and combined with tiny amounts of elements like boron to create a detailed, microscopic lattice or crystalline structure. This structure is incredibly effective at capturing the sun’s rays. These are organized into layers and when sunlight hits these layers, it excites the electrons (tiny particles) in the silicon. This excitement creates an electric current, but it’s in the form of Direct Current (DC), which is like a steady stream of electricity.


However, the electricity our homes and gadgets need is Alternating Current (AC), which is more like a rhythmic pulsing of electricity. That is where the inverter comes in. It is a crucial piece of equipment that takes the DC electricity from the solar panels and transforms it into AC. Modern inverters are more than just converters though. They do not just convert electricity; they also fine-tune the converted AC to ensure it is of high quality and matches the standards required by the power grid. Additionally, they come equipped with safety features for emergency shut offs and have the capability to monitor how the system is performing. This adds not only functionality but also an important layer of safety to the solar power system.


The synergy between solar panels and inverters forms the heart of a solar power system. Together, they efficiently harness, convert, and deliver solar energy for daily use, championing an eco-friendly and renewable energy approach. This combination is advantageous in the journey towards sustainable energy solutions.


Efficiency Ratings in Lab vs. Real World

Solar panels are tested in ideal laboratory conditions to determine their efficiency, which includes perfect sunlight, orientation, and temperature. However, in the real world, these conditions are rarely replicated. Factors that can can reduce the actual efficiency are:


1. Varying Sun Intensity 

The strength of sunlight hitting the solar panels can vary due to cloud cover, time of day, and seasons. Stronger sunlight means more energy production, while weaker sunlight (like on a cloudy day) reduces it.

2. Partial Shading 

If something partially blocks the sun’s rays from hitting the solar panel (like a tree branch, chimney, or nearby building), it can significantly reduce the panel’s efficiency. Even a small shaded area can affect the overall power output.

3. Dust and Dirt Accumulation 

Dust, dirt, or other substances (like bird droppings) that accumulate on the surface of solar panels can obstruct sunlight, lowering their efficiency. Regular cleaning is necessary to maintain optimal performance.

4. Temperature Fluctuations 

Solar panels are most efficient in moderate temperatures. High temperatures can reduce their efficiency, as excessive heat affects the movement of electrons within the panel.

5. Suboptimal Panel Angles

The angle at which solar panels are installed affects how much sunlight they can capture. If the panels are not aligned correctly with respect to the sun’s position, they won’t capture maximum sunlight, reducing their efficiency. The optimal angle varies depending on geographical location and season.


Understanding these factors helps in appreciating the actual performance of solar panels in daily use, and why there might be some differences between the expected (lab-rated) and actual energy output. Typically there is a 15% loss in efficiency for everyday situations due to these factors. To account for these variations, solar power systems are designed by considering average energy outputs and historical electricity usage data. This approach helps to ensure that the system can reliably cater to the energy needs of most households, balancing the gap between ideal performance and actual, day-to-day efficiency. 


Energy Conversion Loss in Inverters

During conversion, a small portion of energy is lost. Most modern inverters are quite efficient, typically around 97%, meaning they can convert 97% of the solar electricity into usable AC power and 3% is lost.


Power Output

A ‘watt’ (W) is a unit measuring electrical power. The wattage of a solar panel, such as 410W, indicates its maximum power output capacity under ideal conditions. For solar systems, wattage is often in kilowatts (kW), where 1 kW equals 1,000 watts. Standard solar panels typically produce between 300-450W, and installing additional panels increases the total power output of the system.


When calculating the daily energy production of a solar panel like the 410W panel, you should consider the average peak sun hours it receives each day and adjust for real-world efficiency. Peak sun hours refer to the number of hours in a day when the sunlight intensity is at its peak. For instance, if a 410W panel receives an average of 5 peak sun hours per day, its daily production without efficiency loss would be 2,050 watt-hours or 2.05 kWh (410W x 5 hours). However, adjusting for real-world efficiency, typically around 85%, the actual daily production is reduced. Applying this efficiency factor (0.85), the daily output becomes approximately 1.74 kWh (2.05 kWh x 0.85).


This method, where you multiply the peak sun hours by the system size (in kW) and then adjust by the efficiency factor (usually around 85%), can be used to estimate the power production for any solar system size.


Solar power offers key advantages: it’s an efficient and clean energy source, allowing for sustainable home power. Systems are customizable, tailored to specific location, power needs, and future requirements. Additionally, real-time electricity usage monitoring often encourages more efficient energy consumption habits.


Solar power stands out as a compelling option for sustainable living, thanks to its clean energy production and constantly improving efficiency. Gaining an understanding of how solar panels operate, the various factors that influence their efficiency, and the methods for calculating daily energy output is crucial when considering solar energy for your needs. This knowledge allows you to make informed decisions about the size and type of system that would best suit your specific requirements. For tailored advice and to ensure an optimal system design that maximizes efficiency and meets your energy needs, it’s advisable to consult with solar energy experts. This approach ensures that you harness solar energy effectively, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. 


Check out this great informative video that explains the science behind solar cells


The ECO-4 Scheme was introduced April 2022 and runs until March 2026. This is a government scheme to support low income households. Offering Grants for Central Heating systems, Heat pumps, Solar and insulation. 

List of qualifying Criteria :

1. Income based Job Seekers Allowance(jsa)

2.Income Support (IS)

3.Working Tax Credit (WTC)

4.Pension Credit (PC)

5.Income Related and Support (ESA)

6.Child Tax Credit (CTC)

7.Housing Benefit

8.Universal Credit (UC)

9.Pension Credit Savings (PCSC)

10.Child Benefit (Within Caps)