How Do Solar Panels Work: The Complete Guide

Have you ever wondered how solar panels work? It always seems a little magical how they can convert the sun’s energy into electricity.

With clean energy taking the world by storm, we felt it was important to clear up some key questions people have about solar panel technology.

Here’s the thing:

Solar panels are just a small part of a complex system that harnesses the sun’s power to produce clean energy. But how do they do this?

Keep reading as we break everything down for you. By the end of the article, you’ll know exactly how they work, what the advantages are, and much more:

How Do Solar Panels Work?

As you’re about to find out further down the article, there are four styles of solar panels, so they work slightly differently.

So this will just be a simple explanation of how solar panels create clean energy. The first stage starts when the sun activates the solar panels.

When the sun’s photons hit the solar panel, which knocks the electrons from their atoms, this action starts to generate a flow of electricity.

The electricity generated then flows down the solar panels’ edges onto the conductive wires.

From there, the inverter transforms the DC to AC, which is the main current used to power your home/electricals.

That’s just a basic run-through of how solar panels work. If we go into more detail, it gets a little sciency and hard to understand.

Before we go on to the next section, I want to explain some of the advantages and disadvantages of using solar panels.

What Are the Advantages Of Solar Panels?

Okay, so you know how they work, but you might not be aware of the advantages they provide you. So, let’s take a look at some of the benefits:

Reduces Your Energy Bills

Any way you can save money is beneficial, and with solar panels, you can greatly reduce the cost of your electric bill.

How much money you save will depend on the solar panels you have and how many of them are connected together. Not only that, but it depends on how much energy you use.

But here’s the best bit:

Any energy generated that you didn’t use will go back into the grid so you can receive money back later.

It Produces Clean Energy

One of the biggest benefits of using solar panels is producing clean energy, which is more important today than ever before.

More and more people are trying to lower their carbon emissions by harnessing renewable energy. And let’s face it, nothing is more sustainable than using the power of the sun.

Many energy sources are finite; if we use them too much, they will eventually run out. The great thing about solar power is it can produce an infinite amount of energy.

They Require A Limited Amount Of Maintenance

In general, solar panels require very little maintenance, and when they do, it’s typically very cheap. Keeping them clean is the biggest maintenance cost, and at most, it will cost you $25-$50.

Clean solar panels are more efficient, which means they can generate more electricity. And if you look after them, the panels should last over 20-years.

The only part of your solar system that needs replacing is the inverter, but even these can last 5-10 years,

What Are The Disadvantages Of Solar Panels?

Nothing in life is perfect, so solar panels have a few disadvantages. And to keep full transparency, we want to walk you through some of the issues people have with solar panels:

They’re Weather Dependent

Don’t get me wrong; solar panels are getting more efficient as every year passes. And while they can still generate power on cloudy days, they perform best when the sun is blazing.

On rainy/cloudy days, you definitely see a dip in the amount of power it generates. To make it worse, they can’t generate any power at night, which can be an issue.

They Have A High Price

This could be the biggest problem for most people. Solar panels have a high initial cost, and it puts a lot of people off.

Many parts need to be installed for a full solar system, which considerably increases the price.

The good thing is once it’s installed, you’ll be saving money every day you use it, so it’s not all bad.

The Different Types Of Solar Panels

In a previous article, we talked about the types of solar panels available, but I think we should have a quick recap:

Thin Film Solar Panels – These panels are one of the most used due to their foldable nature, making them easier to carry. To make things better, they are 1/350 the thickness of mono-crystalline panels.

They are also the cheapest solar panels out there but only have an 8-10% efficiency rating. They’re not commonly used for powering homes because they are less efficient. You’d need a lot of roof space to generate a reasonable amount of power.

Another downside is they tend to degrade quicker, which means companies don’t offer the best warranties.

Poly-Crystalline Solar Panels – These panels are made with silicon and have a blue color to them. The problem is:

The silicone is fairly poor quality, which means they can’t handle high temperatures.

They also struggle to generate the same amount of energy as mono-crystalline panels. They tend to run at 5-6% efficiency.

The cheaper cost reflects the easy to manufacture nature; they don’t create much waste, which helps keep the cost low.

Mono-Crystalline Solar Panels – They are made with pure silicon and can achieve higher efficiency levels. They tend to perform at 21% efficiency, which is a lot better than the other styles can produce.

The problem is:

They cost a lot more to manufacture, but this is down to them producing more power.

They can also withstand a higher temperature than the previous solar panels; this means they last longer and usually have a longer warranty.

Concentrated PV Cell – These cells use a reflective mirror to help concentrate the sunlight onto the solar cells.

They also have a solar tracker inside, which helps direct the solar panel towards the sun to ensure you receive maximum power.

This makes them the most efficient solar panels the market has to offer. They work to a 41% efficiency, which is incredible.

The issue with this system is it costs a huge amount of money and can’t be used for households.

The Four Main Components Of A Solar Power System

Okay, by now, you should have a pretty good idea of how solar panels work and what kind of solar panels are available. But, what components make a complete solar power system?

Four parts make a complete solar system; check them out:

#1 Solar Panels

We’ve already spoken quite a lot about solar panels… So we won’t go into much more detail here.

As you can imagine, they are one of the main components that make up a solar power system.

If you’re looking for some suggestions, we have a great selection of solar panels you can check out in the link.

#2 Inverter

The inverter’s job is to convert the Direct Current produced by solar panels and turn them into AC voltage. You have two types of inverters:

  • String Inverter –They are about the size of a briefcase and are connected to your wall. They can control multiple solar panels, making them better as part of a full solar system.
  • Micro-inverter –As the name suggests, they are a lot smaller, roughly the size of a book. These inverters can only be used for singular solar panels, so they work better for camping trips.


You also have power optimizers, a hybrid of the two inverters mentioned above.

#3 Racking

The next thing you need to consider is the racking system. This is what the solar panels are mounted to, so they stay on your roof securely. They are usually made with aluminum because of the strong and lightweight nature.

#4 Monitoring

Now, you don’t necessarily need a monitoring unit for your solar system, but it is recommended.

They’re basically a small device that monitors how much energy is coming and going from your solar panels.

What’s The Difference Between kWp And kWh?

When looking into solar systems, you’ll often see things like kWp and kWh, and if you don’t know what they mean, things can get pretty confusing.

So, to keep you from pulling your hair out, here’s a quick explanation:

When you’re looking at solar panel systems, you’ll notice they are rated by their kWp (Kilowatts Peak). It basically explains their maximum performance in the right conditions.

It’s unlikely your solar panels will ever reach their maximum performance, even on a sunny day, but it gives you a baseline of their efficiency.

As for kWh, this shows the maximum amount of electricity your solar panels can generate.

Take a look at this table to get a better understanding:

System (kWp) # Of Panels Electricity Generated (kWh)
2 kWp 8 1,700 kWh
3 kWp 12 2,550 kWh
4 kWp 16 3,800 kWh


Using the table above can help you understand how many solar panels you’ll need to power your home.

Do You Need A Battery For Your Solar System

Solar panels are becoming more efficient than ever, which means you may generate more power in the day than you actually use.

And if you want to become completely “off the grid,” having an energy storage system can be very beneficial.

The problem is it’s pretty hard to go completely off the grid, even with a solar battery. The thing is:

You’re unlikely to generate enough power to get completely off the electric grid in the winter.

The other issue is that just having one battery will only store enough power for a couple of hours. Having multiple batteries could increase this to a couple of days, but that makes the system expensive and takes up a lot of room.

At the end of the day, it depends on how committed you are to get off the grid.

Getting a battery backup will be costly and might not bring the benefits you were hoping for.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there’s quite a lot you need to think about when introducing your home to a solar power system. But by getting to the end of this article, you now have a better understanding of how it all works.

Remember, solar power and clean energy are the future, and as the years go by, they are getting more efficient than ever.

If you have any questions about solar power systems, don’t be afraid to leave a comment below, and we’ll get back to you.

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