What happens to solar panels at night?
Updated: Mar 9, 2019
As I was driving down the road the other day my son asked me how solar panels work. After a basic explanation, he asked what happens to solar panels at night. I thought it was an interesting question.
Given how important solar energy is to achieving sustainability, it’s important for us all to have a better understanding. You may have questions such as how can I maintain power during the night with solar and what kind of light can power solar? Let’s look at these questions and more to learn about how solar works at night.
What Kind of Light Can Power Solar?
While many people think of sunlight as the fuel for solar panels, it is actually daylight. This is an important distinction because it changes the places you might put a solar panel on your home or property. Solar panels can be placed in areas that are not in direct sun and still create energy because they convert the photons in natural daylight into electricity.
While you do want to put your solar panel in direct sunlight to get the most out of it, you could place it in shaded areas and still create power with them. This can give you a lot of leeway when installing solar panels.
But this does mean that overcast days don’t produce as much energy, as there is not as much daylight available to the solar panels. It’s estimated that overcast days only produce 40 percent of the energy of bright days, so be sure you account for this when creating your solar plan. This may soon be changing as scientists are discovering ways to power solar panels using infrared energy that is normally absorbed by the earth in addition to using sunlight for power.
How do Solar Panels Work?
You may be surprised to discover that the idea for solar has been around since 1839 when Edward Becqueral, a French scientist, found that there were materials that would spark with electricity when sunlight hit it. This became known as the photoelectric effect. And then in the late 1800’s, photovoltaic (PV) cells were created as a means to harness this energy.
It was not until the 1950’s that PV cells like you are used to were created though. Cell lab scientists added silicon to the PV cells and discovered they could covert 4 percent of the sunlight’s energy into usable electricity. Of course, the solar panels you would buy now are much more efficient.
Modern solar panels also have built-in reflectors to increase the amount of sun they process. This is really helpful for overcast days or places that are more shaded, as it maximizes the daylight it does receive.
What Happens to Your Solar Panels at Night?
As you’ve probably concluded, solar panels don’t produce power at night. Since there is no daylight to power them, they go into a sleep mode until daylight returns. Fortunately, this does not render them useless since there are so many options for storing and using energy captured during the day.
If you’ve ever purchased solar garden lights, you’ve seen energy storage in effect. The solar panels create energy during the day and charge batteries in the lights. At night, power switches to the batteries and keeps the lights running.
How Can I Maintain Power At Night?
There are many options for you to keep the power on at night when solar panels are in sleep mode. To decide which of these options works best for you, think about what you want from your solar panels.
First, look at questions like, do you want to power your house 24/7 using solar, or switch between solar and the utility grid as the need arises? Do you have the funds for a high investment, or are you looking to do a smaller investment to start off with? Do you have the space for extra batteries in your home or business for nighttime use?
Once those questions are answered you can consider the following options for powering your space at night. You can use the utility grid or you can store solar energy in batteries. Let’s look at what these two options entail.
Using The Grid
While you may have dreams of being completely off the grid, maybe you aren’t ready for such a big step yet. Or maybe you want to use solar energy in the easiest manner possible. Either way, you can set it up so that your home or business will utilize solar in the daytime, and then switch to the utility grid at nighttime.
Given that much of the power we use is for air conditioning, this can still help you save a considerable amount by using solar during the hottest times of the day. It’s also the easiest way to set solar up.
Solar panels are an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment. They also help you save money on utility bills! And as we discussed in this article, there are ways to work past the issue of nighttime with solar panels.
You can use solar panels to stay on the grid and take advantage of the utility grid at night or on overcast days. You can also get batteries for storage. Both ways are viable options for you to reach your goal of using solar panels to create energy.
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