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Understanding Solar Power: Renewable Energy FAQs You Need To Know

In less than two hours, the amount of sunlight hitting the earth's surface is enough to power the entire world's energy consumption for a full year. Every day the world is getting more and more of its power through the sun, contrary to popular belief, harvesting solar power isn't a new concept. In fact, it can be traced all the way back to 3rd century B.C., where ancient Romans harnessed the sun's energy with mirrors to ignite torches for their religious ceremonies.

With centuries of innovation and development, the practicality—and technology—behind solar power has significantly improved. Currently, we're witnessing a growing trend toward corporate sustainability and solar energy is a key component to create sustainable business. Every day, more and more businesses make the switch to renewable energy. But what actually is solar power, and how do modern-day photovoltaic (“PV”) systems work?

Keep reading to find out.

What Is Solar Energy?

Simply put, the sun emits light, also known as electromagnetic radiation, which is a form of high-density energy. Solar technologies serve as a receiver, capturing this radiation and channeling it to electrons to create electrical currents. From there, the electricity flows through utility lines, which generates power. 

How Do Solar Panels Convert Sunlight to Energy?

Solar panels are much more than just hi-tech shimmering glasses. They're actually just one small component in a complex network of electromagnetic radiation technology. So, let' take a simple, step-by-step look at how solar power systems generated electricity:

  1. Sunlight Activates Solar Panels: Solar panels are composed of a layer of silicon cells topped by metal frames and glass casing. This is surrounded by film and wiring designed to conduct electricity. Essentially, these parts absorb sunlight during daylight hours.
  2. Cells Produce an Electrical Current: Within every silicon cell is a thin layer of semiconductor wafers. light pushes electrons through the semiconductor creating electric potential.  The electron cannot comeback through the semiconductor as it is a “one way street”.  Basically, light from the sun energizes these cells, causing electrons to "break loose" from the atoms they were previously attached to. Once free, the electrons try to get back the front of the panel. This motion is what creates the electrical current.
  3. Electrical Energy is Converted: It''s important to understand that solar power, once converted, is in the form of direct current (or DC) electricity. Unfortunately, most commercial properties use alternating current (or AC) electricity. That's where solar inverters come into play, as they can seamlessly change DC electricity into AC electricity. For modern solar panels, inverters can be configured as one larger inverter for your entire system, or as individual, smaller ones attached behind each of your panels.
  4. Converted Electricity Generates Power: After solar energy is converted from DC to AC electricity, it moves through electrical infrastructure and distributes throughout your building. Commercial solar solutions work exactly the same way as grid-based electrical power, so rest assured knowing nothing inside your business needs to change. Note, since you're connected to a traditional power source, you can draw additional electricity on-demand from your utility to supplement any potential energy shortages.

Did you know you could receive a substantial rebate on corporate income taxes just by going solar?  If your business is considering renewable energy, As of 2022, the federal government will cover 30% of the price of your entire solar system. How Can I Take Advantage of Federal Solar Incentives?

How Do Solar Farms Work?

Solar farms, also known as solar parks or photovoltaic power stations, are simply a large collection of PV panels. Operationally, they''re virtually the same as commercial solar systems, using the same technology and energy-generating processes, although they differ in logistics and scale. Generally speaking, there are three main types of solar farms.

  • Commercial Solar Farms: Large systems that power an energy user that draws significant power on a mega scale.   These systems are similar to a rooftop in terms of the mechanics of the economics however they take more time to develop, install and interconnect to the existing electrical infrastructure.  They feed directly into a manufacturers electrical system to power loads in the day.
  • Community Solar Farms: These are small-scale facilities that generate upwards of 5 MW of electricity for local communities, homes, and businesses. It''s critical to understand the solar power generated is shared among everyone who participates in the program.  The solar is put into the same grid that homes and businesses feed from.
  • Utility-Scale Solar Farms: These installations consist of hundreds thousands of solar panels, which distribute energy to high-voltage power lines. Utility-scale solar farms require a significant amount of resources and capital to get off the ground, which is why they''re usually owned by well-funded municipalities or large corporate entities. Typically the energy from these systems is sold directly to the utility company.

Do Solar Panels Need Direct Sun?

Yes, weather conditions impact the amount of electricity solar panels generate, but not in all the ways you might think.

Of course, the perfect condition for producing energy is a clear sunny day. But, it might surprise you to know that solar panels are actually more efficient when it is cold and sunny than hot and sunny provided that the sun is striking the panels at the same angle. As temperatures rise, your panels generate less voltage, which in return, produces less electricity. 

Even though your panels may lose their energy-efficiency in warm weather, it's likely they'll still produce more electricity in summer than in winter.  The more direct the light on the modules the more power they produce.   That is why significantly more energy is produced by photovoltaic systems in the summer than the winter.

Do Some Areas in the Country Generate More Power Than Others?

It should go without saying, but some states get more sun than others. In your quest to understand solar power, you might find yourself asking, "Does weather affect solar energy production? Are some states better candidates for solar energy than others?"

The short answer is yes.

Depending on a few factors, like cloud cover and the quality of your solar panels, electricity production can drop anywhere from 10 to 25 percent on cloudy days. However, solar power still works in cloudy, colder locations. How much you'll save, however, depends on many factors, like:

Where your business is located will determine if solar energy will be an excellent investment toward your renewable energy goals. States like New York,  California, Arizona, and Texas consistently see the highest ROIs.  

Pacifico Power: California''s Trusted Commercial Solar Provider

If your company needs renewable energy to help bolster its corporate sustainability efforts, Pacifico Power can help. As a large-scale solar provider, we have decades of experience installing, maintaining, and designing systems for businesses looking to break free from the grid. 

Try out our instant energy assessment to see how much you could save by switching to solar—it only takes a few minutes.