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Solar Energy Basics

How a photovoltaic cell converts sunlight into
an electric charge.
Solar Img

Quasar Solar designs and installs electricity generating (PV) solar systems for homes as well as commercial and industrial businesses. Solar (PV) panels convert the sun’s light energy into electricity.

Most commonly, a homeowner or business will install a solar PV system to generate some or all of their own electricity, while maintaining the connection to their utility – the grid. A grid-tied system balances the load demand of the property with the array’s generation capacity, drawing from the grid as needed, or putting excess solar-generated power back on… essentially ‘spinning’ the meter backwards in the process.

In most cases, we recommend customers ‘size’ their grid-tied system based on the amount of electricity they use during their average load months, typically March/ April for homes in New Mexico and Texas. This results in a system that usually covers about 60-70% of the property’s annual electricity usage, without generating net excess capacity over the course of the full year. 

Amazing solar fact: According to most experts, enough energy hits the earth in a single hour to meet all of humanity’s energy demands for an entire year. Read on for more such tidbits of wisdom, and a quick explanation of how solar works!

How to get electricity from sunlight

The photovoltaic process (“photovoltaic” is just a Greek way of saying “light energy”) is really a pretty simple way of converting one kind of energy to another. In this case, a chemical process uses photons from the sun to make electrons move where we want them to. It’s a miraculous, continuous cycle, kind of like the Lazy River at Schlitterbahn, except it’s much smaller, much faster, and it’s pushed along by the sun’s photons rather than big pumps.

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The grid is the vast, interconnected network of power plants, power lines, transformers, and other scary, high voltage things that virtually every building in America is connected to. The grid is a vast, tangled web, and pretty much every strand, node and hub is owned by someone different. It’s complicated, but in a sense, the mechanism goes a little something like this:

  1. A power plant, makes electricity, usually by spinning a turbine. Depending on the type of power plant, the turbine could be powered by wind, running water, or steam from a coal, gas, nuclear, or heliostat plant. When the turbine spins, an electromagnetic phenomenon (which is just a fancy way of saying “rubbing two magnets together”) occurs, and electrons are forced outward down a wire. Read more

What happens in the middle of the day when nobody is at home and the sun is at its brightest? Your solar system generates a ton of electricity, but it’s not getting used. Where does it go, and how does this affect your finances? And what happens at night when there is no sun, but you want to watch TV?

It all depends on your utility and your solar system.

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A solar system in New Mexico will pay for itself in about ten years. It does this by generating electricity you would otherwise buy from the grid, that you can use to power your electronics, iron your shirts, keep your drinks cool, whatever you want to use it for. At current costs (and they get cheaper to install every year), your solar system will have saved you enough on your utility bills in a decade to equal the money you initially spent on it. After that, it’s all gravy.

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