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How Does Solar Power Work?

The sun provides an amazing source of free energy for us to capture and use to satisfy our growing demand. So how do we take this enormous resource and use it to power our homes and businesses? Welcome to solar energy 101: your introduction to generating renewable energy with solar power.

Solar Photovoltaics

Today we’re talking specifically about solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. There are other ways to use energy from the sun. You can use passive energy to heat and light a home, or solar thermal energy to heat water. All are wonderful ways to use the sun’s energy, but CED Co-op has focused specifically on PV electricity generating systems.

Photovoltaic means “light” and “electricity” which is exactly what solar PV systems do – convert light into electricity. Made out of semi-conductors, solar cells are set up as a circuit where electrons start moving and create current when hit by light. This action, called the “photovoltaic effect” was discovered by Henri Becquerel in 1839. It wasn’t until 1954 that Bell Laboratories invented the first practical solar cell. From there, solar cells have seen amazing growth as we improved their efficiency while reducing the cost. Today you can find solar cells on roofs, charging stations, and even toys.

Building A Solar System

To create a system big enough to power homes solar cells are connected together to form modules (solar panels). These modules are mounted on rails and anchored on roofs, or put in frames on a moving board to follow the sun. The electricity produced depends on how much light strikes the panels, so a lot of work goes into finding the best orientation for each location, eliminating shade on the panels, and maximizing the space used.

The power that comes from a solar system is direct current (DC). It needs to be converted to alternating current (AC) before it can be used to power our homes and businesses. This is where an inverter comes in. By transforming DC to AC, the inverter makes the electricity we’re generating useful to power our lives.

Generating Energy And Revenue

If you were powering your home, that might be it, but CED Co-op invests in solar systems with contracts to sell electricity to the Ontario Energy Grid. It is by selling electricity that we are able to generate revenue and pay a return to our investors. A meter installed at each site tells us how much electricity we are generating, and being paid for. The rate depends on which contract the system was installed under.

There you have it, solar energy 101. Whenever the sun is shining solar systems are generating clean, green energy for Ontario (and profits for CED Co-op investors!)

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