How does solar power work?
Solar power works by converting energy from the sun into power. There are two forms of energy generated from the sun for our use – electricity and heat.
Both are generated through the use of solar panels, which range in size from residential rooftops to ‘solar farms’ stretching over acres of rural land.
Is solar power a clean energy source?
Yes, solar power is a renewable and infinite energy source that creates no harmful greenhouse gas emissions – as long as the sun continues to shine, energy will be released.
The carbon footprint of solar panels is already quite small, as they last for over 25 years. Plus, the materials used in the panels are increasingly recycled, so the carbon footprint will continue to shrink.
How exactly is electricity from solar energy produced?
Solar panels are usually made from silicon, or another semiconductor material installed in a metal panel frame with a glass casing. When this material is exposed to photons of sunlight (very small packets of energy) it releases electrons and produces an electric charge.
This PV charge creates an electric current (specifically, direct current or DC), which is captured by the wiring in solar panels. This DC electricity is then converted to alternating current (AC) by an inverter. AC is the type of electrical current used when you plug appliances into normal wall sockets.
Can solar power be generated on a cloudy day?
Yes, it can – solar power only requires some level of daylight in order to harness the sun’s energy. That said, the rate at which solar panels generate electricity does vary depending on the amount of direct sunlight and the quality, size, number and location of panels in use.
How is more solar power being brought into our electricity systems?
Both the UK and US governments are aiming to decarbonise their electricity systems by 2035, in which renewable energy sources like solar power are set to play a major part.
Solar energy in the UK
The UK's first transmission-connected solar farm was energised in May 2023. This was the firstPV solar array to feed electricity directly into the UK’s transmission network, allowing it to be transported over greater distances. Previously, UK solar farms were connected to the country's distribution networks – the lower-voltage regional grids that carry power from the high-voltage transmission network to homes and businesses.
Located near Bristol, this solar plant is expected to generate over 73,000 megawatt hours (MWh) annually – enough to power the equivalent of over 17,300 homes – and will displace 20,500 tons of CO2 each year compared to traditional energy production.
The UK government’s Powering up Britain report has reaffirmed its ambition for a five-fold increase in deployment of solar generation by 2035, with up to 70 gigawatt (GW) installed – enough to power around 20 million homes.