How Does Solar Work?

February 03, 2022

Sullivan County Democrat – “A Sustainable Tomorrow”, A Quarterly Publication of DRS
This article is courtesy of the Solar Energy Technologies Office, a part of the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy,

The amount of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in an hour-and-a-half is enough to handle the entire world’s energy consumption for a full year.

Solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy either through photovoltaic (PV) panels or through mirrors that concentrate
solar radiation. This energy can be used to generate electricity or be stored in batteries or thermal storage. Solar energy is a multi-faceted topic which includes solar radiation, photovoltaic and concentrating solar-thermal power technologies, electrical grid systems integration, and the non-hardware aspects (soft costs) of solar energy.

There is also much our readers can learn about how to go solar and the solar energy industry. In addition, readers can dive deeper
into solar energy and learn about how the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office is driving innovative research and development in these areas on their website,

Below, we will highlight a few topics of interest in the solar energy field.

Solar Energy 101
Solar radiation is light – also known as electromagnetic radiation – that is emitted by the sun. While every location on Earth receives
some sunlight over a year, the amount of solar radiation that reaches any one spot on the Earth’s surface varies. Solar technologies
capture this radiation and turn it into useful forms of energy.

There are two main types of solar energy technologies – photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP). Photovoltaics Basics Most readers are likely more familiar with PV, which is utilized in solar panels. When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow. Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Basics Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) systems use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect solar energy and convert it to heat, which can then be used to produce electricity or stored for later use. It is used primarily in very large power plants.

Systems Integration Basics
Solar energy technology doesn’t end with electricity generation by PV or CSP systems. These solar energy systems must be integrated into homes, businesses, and existing electrical grids with varying mixtures of traditional and other renewable energy sources.

Going Solar Basics
Solar energy can help to reduce the cost of electricity, contribute to a resilient electrical grid, create jobs and spur economic growth,
generate back-up power for nighttime and outages when paired with storage, and operate at similar efficiency on both small and large scales.

Solar Industry Basics
Solar energy systems come in all shapes and sizes. Residential systems are found on rooftops across the United States, and businesses
are also opting to install solar panels. Utilities, too, are building large solar power plants to provide energy to all customers
connected to the grid.