How Do Solar
Panels Work?

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels turn sunlight into energy that we can use to power homes and businesses — but how exactly does that process work? Generating energy from sunlight requires some complex science. If you’ve ever wondered how solar panels form one of the most sustainable energy sources ever discovered, we break down this technical process in a simple way below.

Here, you’ll learn how solar panels work and what they do, so you can understand the process from start to finish.

The Basics of Solar Energy: How Are Solar Power Systems Configured?

Sunlight, also called solar radiation or electromagnetic radiation, emanates from the sun at varying levels worldwide. Solar panels can harness that electromagnetic radiation and turn it into usable energy. You can learn more about what solar energy is here. Read on to learn about the basics of solar energy and how solar panels work.

The amount of solar energy you can
access varies based on location and time of year.

The amount of solar energy you can
access varies based on location and time of year.

Solar PV modules, or solar panels, generate energy using sunlight. But solar panels are just one aspect of solar power systems, which need other technologies to work as intended. These technologies include mounting structures, building-integrated PV (BIPV), inverters, and storage. For solar panels to generate energy most efficiently, their location must be carefully calculated and secured by mounting structures. The mounting design should be sturdy and weatherproof. It should also position the panels to receive as much sunlight as possible based on factors like latitude, structural orientation, and electricity usage.

As solar panels produce direct current (DC) energy, inverters convert it into alternating current (AC) energy. An entire solar energy system typically uses just one inverter to convert direct current electricity into the electricity that powers our televisions, computers, appliances, and more.

Solar batteries are used for energy storage and help you get the most out of your solar power system. Excess energy produced on sunny days is stored in these batteries and can either be used on a day-to-day basis when the system is producing less power than you’re using or can remain on standby to provide backup power during a grid outage. Storage batteries are also used in net metering, where solar power system users can feed excess energy back to the grid and save on utility bills.

To learn more about solar panel systems, use the link below.

Solar Radiation

Depending on where you live, you may receive more or less solar radiation on any given day or any time of year. The amount of solar radiation you receive also fluctuates based on the location, landscape, season, and time of day. As we live on a round planet, the sun’s rays hit Earth at different angles. Areas closer to the earth’s equator will receive higher levels of sunlight consistently throughout the year, whereas locations nearer to the earth’s north and south poles will receive less. Sunlight levels also change during seasons.

In the summer, the United States is closer to the sun. So, the days are longer, and solar panels receive more light, allowing them to work more effectively. In the winter, when the U.S. is farther from the sun, solar panels still receive sunlight but at lower levels. Solar panels receive the most sunlight when the sun is at the highest point in the sky.

Roof orientation is also a determining factor in how effectively your panels capture sunlight and convert it to usable electricity. The direction of your roof is directly related to the amount of solar radiation your panels get. Ideally, your panels should face south in the Northern Hemisphere and north in the Southern Hemisphere for maximum exposure and optimal energy production.


What do solar panels do? As mentioned above, photovoltaic (PV) technology enables solar panels to transform sunlight into usable energy. PV cells, also called solar cells, are small devices made up of semiconductor materials. Each cell usually produces 1 or 2 watts and is surrounded by plastic, glass, or other materials that protect the technology from the elements.

Because each PV cell produces a relatively small amount of power, solar energy systems are made up of multiple PV cells strung together to form solar modules, also called solar panels. One solar panel can contain over a hundred cells depending on size and use, though specific numbers will vary by manufacturer. This makes solar energy systems modular and customizable based on need.

Learn more about Qcells PV Solar Panels

Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power

Large power plants or utility-scale solar power systems generate more energy using concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technology. CSP can generate more electricity by using mirrors to reflect sunlight back into solar power receivers, concentrating the amount of solar radiation and maximizing energy generation.

CSP technology systems can be designed into thermal storage, power tower, and linear systems.

Battery storage

Thermal Storage Systems

Solar energy production can be limited when the sun sets or weather conditions are cloudy. Thermal storage systems offer a solution to this issue by reflecting sunlight onto receivers, generating heat, and producing electricity that can be used instantly or stored for later. Typical thermal storage systems include two-tank direct, two-tank indirect, and single-tank thermocline systems.

CSP Power Tower Systems

Concentrating solar-thermal power tower systems are made up of many sun-tracking mirrors called heliostats. The heliostats concentrate sun rays onto a solar receiver at the top of the tower. The receiver contains a heat-transfer fluid, which, when warmed, heats a working fluid used in a turbine generator to create electricity.

CSP Linear Systems

Concentrating solar-thermal linear systems work similarly to power towers. The main difference is that the sun-tracking mirrors, or heliostats, concentrate sunlight onto linear receiver tubes instead of a receiver on a tall tower.

CSP systems provide efficient and reliable renewable energy and play a vital role in overcoming limitations caused by variations in sunlight availability, enabling the generation of electricity even during non-optimal conditions. These diverse CSP technologies contribute to the expansion of clean energy infrastructure, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating environmental impact.

As the renewable energy sector continues to evolve, the advancements in CSP technology offer promising opportunities for sustainable energy generation on a large scale.

Thermal storage systems can help
combat darkness and cloudy weather.

Thermal storage systems can help
combat darkness and cloudy weather.

See How Solar Panels Produce Power

Going Solar

Solar power can significantly benefit homeowners and business owners alike. Installing solar panels on your house or other building can help reduce electricity costs and generate backup energy during power outages or severe weather. If you’ve been thinking about going solar, there’s much to consider.

Solar energy costs vary depending on several factors, including soft costs like loans and financing, permitting, and installation. You can learn more about how much solar panels cost here.

The average cost of solar energy systems has fallen nearly 70% since 2014.

The average cost of solar energy systems has fallen nearly 70% since 2014.

Ready to Go Solar?

If you’re ready to switch to renewable solar energy, Axia is here to make it possible. We guide you through the entire transition, ensuring you feel informed and empowered through every step of our simple and seamless process.

Get in touch with one of our solar advisors today to discuss solar panel costs, get a custom quote, or begin your solar power installation. We can’t wait to help electrify your life!

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