How does Solar Power Work?

Solar Power Panel How does solar power work? The energy from the photons we get from the sun is quite extraordinary. On a clear day, when the sun is directly overhead, the energy we receive from the sun is equivalent to 1kW of power for every square metre of surface area the protons reach.

How does Solar Power work? Converting the suns rays

This is an awful lot of power. We can work this power in so many different ways, converting the suns rays into other energy sources - typically electricity, hot water or heat. Whilst we cannot convert this energy with 100% efficiency, we are learning how to harness power from the sun more and more effectively.

Of course, the sun is not always overhead and the actual power from the sun - called solar irradiance - depends on the season, the weather and the time of day. Thankfully this can be measured so we can find out how much energy the sun is providing us at different locations on a daily basis at different times of the year.

To find out the power of the sun where you live throughout the year, see our solar irradiance calculator.

We can harness power from the sun and make it work for us either directly or indirectly. For example:

  • A direct use: a photovoltaic panel, generating electricity directly from photons being absorbed by the different layers within the panel.
  • An indirect: the sun shining on a field, then a ground source heat pump pumping that heat from underground into a house to maintain a constant temperature - heating the house in winter and cooling it in the summer.

Some of the ways we are using the power of the sun to work for us are listed below. Click on the different links to find out more about what each system does and how they work:

  • Electric Solar Panels
  • Solar Hot Water
  • Air Source Heat Pumps
  • Ground Source Heat Pumps
  • Solar Chimney
  • Solar Heat Storage

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Solar Electricity Handbook

Solar Electricity Handbook This book is a simple, practical guide to using photovoltaic panels and designing and installing photovoltaic PV systems.

The Solar Electricity Handbook assumes no previous knowledge. It explains how these panels work, how they can be used and explains the steps you need to take to successfully design and install a electric photovoltaic system from scratch.

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