How do solar panels work?

Did you know that the sun is the ultimate source for energy and fuels we use today?1 So how do solar panels use all of this sunlight to produce electricity that can, say, power a toaster (or two, or three, or 12)? It happens in four steps:

Step 1: Solar panels collect sunlight

solar panels collect sunlight

Every solar panel contains something called photovoltaic, or PV, cells. PV cells take light (aka photons) and turn the light into electricity (aka voltage). When sunlight hits the solar panel, PV cells get to work by producing direct current (DC) electricity. This is all fine and well, but DC electricity can’t power your home. That’s where some other pieces of equipment come into the picture.

Step 2: Inverters convert the solar power to usable electricity

On the back of each solar panel is an inverter. The most important thing to know about the inverter is that it converts DC electricity—the unusable kind of electricity—into alternating current (AC) electricity—the good stuff. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Step 3: Electricity flows into net meter

AC electricity flows from the solar panels through efficient wires and cables into your net meter. Your net meter measures both the power you’re drawing from the grid and the excess power your solar panels are putting back onto the grid.

Step 4: Fire up the toaster

After electricity runs through your net meter, it makes itself comfortable in your home and powers all of your appliances. If your solar panels don’t produce enough energy to cover all of your needs, don’t worry. You’re still connected to the power grid, so you can automatically draw more energy whenever you need.

How to get solar panels onto your roof.

anatomy of solar panels

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How to Go Solar

Vivint Solar makes renewable energy a simple and affordable alternative. We take care of everything from solar system design, to paperwork and permitting, to installation and maintenance.

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