How Solar Energy Works

How Solar Energy Works

How Solar Energy Works

You just buy a few solar panels, attach them to your home or business, and the sun heats them up to make power, right? Well, no, but it’s now easier than ever to harness solar energy to create a more sustainable source of renewable power. Here’s how engineers have created a system to connect to the grid using solar panels.

 Solar Radiation 

A few things affect how much solar radiation (a.k.a. sunlight) reaches the Earth to start generating the electricity that powers our homes and businesses: geographic location, time of day, season, local weather and local landscape. The Earth receives the strongest solar radiation when the sun is 90 degrees from the land, otherwise the rays will scatter and diffuse at more of a slant. Environmental factors like air, water vapor, dust and pollutants can reduce direct beam radiation (the rays that reach the Earth) by 10% even on clear, dry days.

The amount of sunlight collected for solar electric (photovoltaic or PV) systems is measured in kilowatt-hours per square meter and describes the amount of radiation on a horizontal surface. This includes both direct and scattered light captured by the PV cells, so the systems can produce some energy even on overcast days.

Photovoltaic Technology

The photovoltaic cells that make up solar models and, therefore, solar systems (all of the panels that work together at a specific location, plus their mounts and converters) are semiconductors that convert the captured sunlight into electrical energy. One cell typically produces one to two watts of power. To make them stronger, they can be connected to form arrays. The arrays then connect to the electrical grid.

Silicon, the most used semiconductor material in solar panels, absorbs the sunlight it is exposed to and transfers the energy into electrons that flow through the metal contacts in the solar cell before traveling to the inverter. The inverter then converts the direct current to an alternating current that connects to the grid and powers the appliances and devices in your home.

Systems Integration

When we talk about connecting increased amounts of generated electricity to the grid, it doesn’t come without doing some math. Traditionally, the transmission and distribution grids only required electricity to flow one way - from the source to the consumer. Now that individuals and businesses can create energy separately from the source, it requires the grid to handle electricity both ways, as excess power can be injected back into the grid.

That’s a large part of our job, to manage the flow of electricity on the grid so that it can stay healthy and consistently provide power to everyone we service. Real-time information helps us control the grid operations so that these additional systems don’t overload it and cause blackouts. 

Going solar, even if you use community solar farms like Colleton Solar Farm, where Santee Cooper sources its power for our Solar Share customers, so that you don’t have to install panels on your property, is just one way we’re helping to empower you to transform your energy usage and working to create a more sustainable future for our environment. Learn more about how you can harness the power of the sun at or contact us at

Author Santee Cooper

Santee Cooper

Santee Cooper is South Carolina’s largest power provider, the ultimate source of electricity for 2 million people across the state, and one of America’s Best Midsize Employers as named by Forbes. Through its low-cost, reliable and environmentally responsible electricity and water services, and through innovative partnerships and initiatives that attract and retain industry and jobs, Santee Cooper helps power South Carolina. To learn more, visit and follow #PoweringSC on social media.