How solar panels generate electricity

How Do Solar Panels Work?



With rising energy prices affecting hundreds of thousands of UK households, and a growing number of providers ceasing to trade, how we use and consume gas and electricity has never been a more topical talking point.

At 100Green, we’ve been talking about greener, more sustainable energy for over 22 years. While our focus has never changed, there’s undoubtedly more awareness now on sources of renewable energy. One of the best known is solar energy, which can generate electricity.

This isn’t a new development, by any means, but if you’re starting to consider installing a means of renewable energy, you might be asking, ‘how do solar panels work?’ Let’s explain a bit more about how solar panels generate electricity; from the basics you perhaps already know, to how we at 100Green fit into it all.

First, how do solar panels work? Well, they absorb sunlight – believe it or not, there’s still plenty of it available in the UK, despite our hit-and-miss weather – and then they convert it into what’s called direct current (DC) energy. The DC energy is then converted into alternating current (AC) energy, which then enters into the home. AC energy is what powers household electrical appliances.

That’s the short and simple explanation. Of course, the process is a little more scientific in terms of how solar panels actually work. The magic comes from the photovoltaic cells that are built into solar panels between layers of silicon. This creates an electric field when fed by photons from the sun.

And just a further point about that unreliable UK weather – although longer and stronger sunlight is ideal for helping solar panels to produce energy, they will still generate power on cloudy days. Solar panels work with light, not heat, so they can be effective all year round.

What Are The Advantages of Solar Energy?

With more and more people seeking to install renewable energy solutions to help to do their bit to save the planet, and save money, it’s no surprise that interest in solar panels is surging.

Advantages of solar energy include:

Reduces carbon emissions
If you’re reading this, the likelihood is that you’re keen to make a positive contribution to the world’s need to reduce carbon emissions. Using solar panels is one way to make a difference – solar energy doesn’t use any pollutants, unlike fossil fuels.

Sustainable energy
The energy ‘crisis’ we saw emerging in 2021 was a timely reminder of the strain placed on resources such as gas, and the risk of relying solely on them. Because solar energy is powered by the sun, there should be no shortage from the source – unless the sun ever disappears, in which case we’re all in big trouble.

Can save money
Yes, solar panels can help you to save money in the long run, but don’t make a decision to install them if you think you’ll immediately get cheap fuel. Think of it more as taking control of your energy bill, by creating your own source of electricity and benefitting from that.

Solar panels are long lasting
Once installed, solar panels are durable and should remain in good condition for around 30 years or so. Most household roofs should be suitable to take solar panels, and if you prefer a slightly different option, solar tiles and slates are available.

You might get paid for extra energy
As well as potentially saving money when it comes to your electricity costs, you may also earn money from solar energy. If you create more solar energy than your home needs, you can export it back to the National Grid for another user to benefit. Look up the Smart Export Guarantee for more information – or sign up for our own export tariff, where we buy the excess energy your home installation produces.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Solar Energy?

It’s always worth being aware of the full picture before making any decisions.

Possible disadvantages of solar energy include:

Initial cost of solar panels

The cost of installing solar panels might come as a surprise; MoneySavingExpert estimated the average price is around £4,800, so that’s a sizable investment. You can expect to see a return on investment in terms of energy savings and selling surplus energy back, but that could take at least 15 years, maybe more.

Weather and geographical location

While it’s true that solar energy can be generated even on dull, grey days, the more sun and light, the better. The positioning of the solar panels on the roof can make a difference. They’re best fitted on a south-facing roof, so if yours is positioned differently, that may also affect the energy generated.

Impact on your property

It’s worth bearing in mind how installing solar panels to get solar energy impacts your property in the long term. If you move home, some potential buyers might see solar panels as an asset – others may be put off by their appearance. And, while you can relocate your solar panels if you move, you may choose not to, so there’s a risk of writing off your investment.

The Benefits of a Time-of-Use Tariff

We’re always looking to find ways to help you maximise your investment in solar energy. While it may not work for everyone, one of the ways we do that is by offering a Time of Use Tariff called Tide.

Tide puts you in control of your solar energy and could help you maximise your investment. If your solar panel installation is connected to a storage battery, you can store up your energy during the day and then choose to use it at peak times if you need to.

So, if you have little need to use energy for periods of the day – perhaps you’re out at work and your home is mostly unoccupied – you can save up solar energy generated, and then use it when you most need it. Watching TV, making dinner, enjoying a hot shower; power when you need it, and not when you don’t.

How 100Green Uses Solar Energy

100Green buys and sells solar energy from renewable sources and works with a number of generators around the UK – all our energy is sustainable. We champion 100% green energy and partner with independent commercial generators to buy and sell green gas and renewable electricity.

We also work with home generators, too, and can buy solar energy from you. If you are one of our electricity customers and generate your own solar energy by owning a home renewable generation installation, you can sign up for our Export Tariff. We can pay you for the excess electricity you generate.

Find out more about our Export Tariff >here and learn more about our Energy > here.