What is solar power?

Here’s how solar power makes its way from the sun to your kitchen appliances. Now it’s available to every home – panels or not.

Scientists and governments all over the world agree: to create a sustainable future, we must make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. And there’s no better source for Sydney than solar.

The City of Sydney believes solar power will play an important role in the city’s future. The technology is well-established, safe and efficient, and it’s getting cheaper all the time.

There are two main ways you can access solar power and ensure your home is not powered by fossil fuels: you can generate your own solar energy or buy it through your electricity provider.

Here, the basics of solar power explained.

How solar power works

The main form of solar energy production is known as “solar PV” and uses photovoltaic panels that absorb sunlight and turn it into electricity. Solar PV can be installed on most rooftops and can also be set up in large open spaces known as solar farms. Here’s how it works:

  • The panels. Solar panels consist of numerous small cells made from a semi-conductive material, usually silicon. When light shines on a cell it creates an electric field.

  • The inverter. The type of electricity produced by solar panels is known as variable direct current (DC) output. But the electricity we use at home and at work is alternating current (AC). An inverter is a box that sits near your solar panels and converts DC output to AC output so it can be used by appliances and machines in the home and the office.

  • The battery. Solar PV systems can be connected to a battery that stores excess electricity created during sunny periods so it can be used at night or when there is less sunshine.

What about solar hot water?

Another common form of solar power is solar thermal, more commonly referred to as solar hot water. Like solar PV, solar thermal uses panels to capture the sun’s energy. However, solar thermal simply uses that energy to create heat, not electricity. A typical solar thermal system heats water in a tank that is directly connected to the panel or panels.

The most common application for solar thermal in a residential setting has been heating for outdoor swimming pools – however, the technology can also be used to heat water for indoor use. During periods of extended cloudy, cold days, the system may need the help of a booster.

Choosing onsite or offsite solar

Many homeowners and businesses within the City of Sydney can install solar PV or solar thermal themselves. But residents and businesses that do not have the means to install a solar system on a rooftop can still access solar power through their electricity provider (known as “offsite solar”). Almost all electricity providers in Australia allow customers to purchase solar power that has been generated off site.

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