How Solar works

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Follow the path of solar energy from the Sun to your world:

The Sun produces radiant energy by consuming hydrogen in nuclear fusion reactions. Solar energy is transmitted to the earth in portions of energy called photons, which interact with the earth's atmosphere and surface.  It takes about 8 minutes and 20 seconds for the sun's energy to reach the earth.

Our sun

The Earth receives and collects solar energy in the atmosphere, oceans, and plant life. Interactions between the sun's energy, the oceans, and the atmosphere, for example, create winds, which can produce electricity when directed through aerodynamically designed wind machines.

The Earth

Solar photovoltaic cells convert solar radiation into electricity (photovoltaic literally means "light energy"; "photo" = light, "voltaic" = energy).   Individual cells are packaged into modules, like the one shown at the right; groups of modules are called arrays.  Photovoltaic arrays act like a battery when the sun is shining, producing a stream of direct current (DC) electricity and sending it into the building or sharing it with the grid.

Solar photovoltaic module

A weather station, located on or near the array, tracks current weather conditions at the site.  The weather station usually contains an anemometer to measure wind speed, a pyranometer to measure the amount of solar energy reaching the array, and a thermometer to measure the temperature.  The electronic signals from the weather station are transmitted to the data acquisition system where they are interpreted and stored for collection on a periodic basis.

Weather station

The DC disconnect switch allows professional electricians to disconnect the photovoltaic array from the rest of the system.  With the switch in the "off" position, workers can safely perform maintenance on other system components.

DC disconnect switch

The inverter converts direct current (DC) electricity generated by the array into alternating current (AC) electricity for use in the building. Most electrical loads (energy-consuming devices like lights, motors, computers, and air conditioners) in schools, homes and businesses use AC electricity.

Power inverter

The transformer ensures that the voltage of the electricity coming from the inverter is compatible with the voltage of the electricity in the building.

Power transformer

The AC disconnect switch allows professional electricians to disconnect the building's electrical system from the solar photovoltaic system. With the AC disconnect switch in the "off" position, workers can safely perform maintenance on the solar photovoltaic system's components.

AC disconnect switch

The electric meter keeps track of the amount of electrical energy produced by the solar photovoltaic system and sends electronic signals to the data acquisition system where they are recorded.  Electrical energy is measured in kilowatt-hours.  How much energy is contained in a kilowatt-hour?  We're glad you asked.  Use our calculator to find out.

Electric meter

The data acquisition system (SolTrex logger) receives signals from the weather station and the electric meter.  It runs a computer program to calculate and record the weather conditions and electrical output of the system, and it allows system owners and others to log in and download information from home, work, or elsewhere.

Data acquisition system

The electrical distribution panel receives electricity generated by the solar photovoltaic system, combines it with other electricity supplied by the electric utility company, and routes the energy throughout the building to power lights, appliances, computers, and other energy-consuming devices.

Electrical distribution panel

Everyone enjoys the benefits of solar electric energy without even thinking about it.  The building or home owners also benefit by having a portion of their electrical needs met by solar power, resulting in lower monthly electric bills.



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