How do solar panels work?

10th March 2014

What’s the difference between solar electricity panels and solar hot water?

Solar panels take light from the sun and make electricity. Solar hot water systems take heat from the sun and heat water. It’s easy to remember:

  • Light from the sun turns on the lights.
  • Heat from the sun heats the water.

How does solar electricity work?

Solar power systems convert energy from sunlight into Direct Current (DC) electricity. An inverter then converts this DC power to Alternating Current (AC), to make it compatible with grid electricity. In order to generate as much electricity from the sun as possible, solar power systems should be oriented to the north and tilted.

How does solar hot water work?

Solar hot water systems collect heat from the sun and transfer it to liquid, usually the very water you shower in, storing it away in a highly insulated storage tank while the sun shines, even working when cloudy, although the amounts of heat gathered are obviously less. In Australia, go outside wearing a black t-shirt and face south - the amount of heat that you can feel on your shoulders is a pretty accurate indication of how much heat a solar hot water collector will be capturing at that moment. 

The hot water from the sun can then be used any time of the day or night. When the sunshine available is not sufficient to heat enough water for you, boosting methods using gas, electricity and even waste heat from other heat sources (like a slow combustion wood heater's flue gases) are utilised to make up the difference.

Why use solar energy systems?

  • Solar electricity is quiet, clean energy and reduces electricity bills.
  • Solar hot water is a simple and reliable way to dramatically reduce gas and electricity consumption.
  • Solar energy avoids the impacts of fossil fuel power stations such as greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution.
  • Solar electricity and solar hot water systems can add value to your house, and make interesting and unique architectural features.

If I have a solar panel system, does that mean I won’t have electricity when it’s dark, cloudy or raining?

Solar panels do need light to produce electricity. However, the electricity can be stored in batteries (Off-Grid Solar Systems), or in the electricity cables on the street (Grid-Connected Solar Systems). Therefore, there will always be extra electricity if you need it.

Will my solar panels make power during blackouts/power surges?

If you have a grid-connected system, your power will go out in a blackout, as your system’s inverter automatically disconnects the electricity supply to prevent electrocution.

In regional areas where the supply of electricity is not reliable, “non-interruptible” solar power systems can be installed to provide power when blackouts or power surges occur. Such systems also incorporate a battery bank to store the back up power.

Are solar energy systems reliable?

Solar electricity and solar hot water systems are covered by Australian Standards and installed by trained professionals. Going Solar has always advocated the use of high quality equipment and installation to maximise efficiency, reliability and system lifetime. Over the long term, this clearly gives the customer the best financial results. 

For solar electricity systems, Going Solar warranties are 25 years for panels performance; 5–7 years for the inverter; and 5 years for the labour. The actual life expectancy of 'photovoltaic' or 'PV" solar panels is over 40 years. Systems that Going Solar installed over 20 years ago are still operating today, and continue to exceed expectations of their power generation capabilities.

For solar hot water systems, many factors affect reliability. System quality, design, model selection and sizing are all crucial to achieving the best results. As with our solar electricity systems, Going Solar often has repeat business from customers that have had totally reliable solar hot water systems operating for well over 20 years. Quality solar hot water system equipment attracts manufacturers' warranties of 10 to 15 years.

How reflective are solar panels?

Solar panels are designed to absorb as much light or heat as possible to generate the maximum amount of electricity or hot water. Therefore the materials typically have zero or low reflectivity.

What is an inverter?

The grid connected inverter converts the electricity from your solar panels (DC) to mains power electricity (240V AC). It also safely stops the solar system if there is a blackout on the power lines.

Thinking of a solar electricity or solar hot water system for your home or office? Contact Going Solar.