Solar Basics

Anne BrockOur Town Outdoors

Question: How does solar energy work?

Sunlight contains particles of energy called photons. When the sun’s rays hit the panel, silicon inside the panel absorbs the photons, forming an electrical current. The direct current (DC) travels to an inverter which changes it to the alternating current (AC) we use. From the inverter, that current travelers to the breaker box for immediate use or to the battery to store for later use.

Q: Why does solar make the energy mix more resilient?

If you have your own power source like solar and battery storage, maybe even a backup generator, you have more options in case the overall electrical grid goes down. Bigger picture: distributed power versus everything being so centralized – can make it more likely for entire communities to keep the lights on in case of weather emergencies or other issues with the grid. More and more electrification is the trend, so communities and local power providers are having to think of distributing loads in ways they never had to worry about 50 years ago.

Q: Explain how the return-on-investment works. Explain Levelized Cost of Energy.

It is good to be conservative when looking at your potential return on investment for solar, and this can include several different factors. Federal energy grants and tax incentives obviously can help speed up the payback. Levelized Cost of Energy is what your electricity really costs when you figure up everything. For solar that is the up-front cost of the PV system, minus the incentives, maintenance over time, and then distributing that cost over the expected life of the system – with how many kilowatt hours the system will produce to get your cost per kilowatt hour. Keep in mind most modules now have a 25-year or more warranty. To compare, you can check your electric bill right now to see what you are paying per kilowatt hour. Playing into this is how you use power over time and the rising cost of energy.

Anne Brock is marketing coordinator for Solar Alliance, which designs and manages solar installation projects for manufacturers and small businesses. She can be reached at or 865-221-8349.


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