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How Solar Works

 

We can change sunlight directly to electricity using solar cells. Every day, light hits your roof's solar panels with photons (particles of sunlight). The solar panel converts those photons into electrons of direct current ("DC") electricity. The electrons flow out of the solar panel and into an inverter and other electrical safety devices. The inverter converts that "DC" power (commonly used in batteries) into alternating current or "AC" power. AC power is the kind of electrical that your television, computer, and toasters use when plugged into the wall outlet. A net energy meter keeps track of the all the power your solar system produces. Any solar energy that you do not use simultaneous with production will go back into the electrical grid through the meter. At night or on cloudy days, when your system is not producing more than your building needs, you will consume electricity from the grid as normal. Your utility will bill you for the "net" consumption for any given billing period and provide you with a dollar credit for any excess during a given period. You can carry your bill credit forward for up to a year.


Solar Cells

Solar cells are small, square-shaped panel semiconductors made from silicon and other conductive materials, manufactured in thin film layers. When sunlight strikes a solar cell, chemical reactions release electrons, generating electric current. Solar cells are also called photovoltaic cells or "PV cells" and can be found on many small appliances such as calculators.


Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System Components

A PV system components include PV modules (groups of PV cells), which are commonly called PV panels; one or more batteries; a charge regulator or controller for a stand-alone system; an inverter to covert solar power from direct current (DC) to the alternating current (AC) of the utility grid-connected system; wiring; and mounting hardware or a framework. A PV module arranges individual PV cells, and the modules are grouped together in an array. Some of the arrays are set on special tracking devices to follow sunlight all day long and improve system efficiency.


PV System Installation, Maintenance, and Longevity

You could install a photovoltaic (PV) or solar electric system yourself. But to avoid complications or injury, you will probably want to hire a reputable professional contractor with experience installing solar systems. While they are sophisticated electric systems, PV systems have few moving parts, so they require little maintenance. The basic PV module (an interconnected, enclosed panel of PV cells) has no moving parts and can last more than 30 years while requiring little maintenance. The components are designed to meet strict dependability and durability standards to withstand the elements. The best way to ensure and extend the life and effectiveness of your PV system is by having it installed and maintained properly. Most PV system problems occur because of poor or sloppy system installation. Solar systems that receive rebates through most utilities are required to have a 10-year system warranty.


Incorporating PV Systems into Your Home and Business

PV systems today can be blended easily into both traditional and nontraditional homes, powering appliances and electric systems. PV cells can be installed as a stand-alone module that is attached to your roof or on a separate system, or using integrated roofing materials with dual functions - that as a regular roofing shingle and as a solar cell making electricity. The most common practice is to mount modules onto a south-facing roof or wall. PV systems likewise can be blended into virtually every conceivable structure for commercial buildings. You will find PV used outdoors for security lighting as well as in structures that serve as covers for parking lots and bus shelters.


Sunlight Requirements for PV Systems

A photovoltaic (PV) system needs unobstructed access to the sun's rays for most or all of the day to be effective. Shading on the system can significantly reduce energy output. Climate is not a major concern because PV systems are relatively unaffected by air temperatures, and snow cover typically melts quickly because panels are positioned directly into the sunlight. Abundant year-round sunshine makes solar energy systems useful and effective nearly everywhere in California.


The Size of Your Solar PV System

The size of your solar system depends on several factors such as how much electricity or hot water or space heat you use, the size of your roof, how much you're willing to invest, and how much energy you want to generate. Contact a system designer/installer to determine what type of system fits your needs.


Other Solar Technologies

  • Concentrating solar power (CSP) systems concentrate the sun's energy using reflective devices such as troughs or mirror panels to produce heat that is then used to generate electricity.
  • Solar water heating systems contain a solar collector that faces the sun and either heats water directly or heats a "working fluid" that, in turn, is used to heat water.
  • Transpired solar collectors, or "solar walls," use solar energy to preheat ventilation air for a buildin

 

California & U.S. Renewable Energy Legislation

 

Picture of State Capitol, credit - Adam Gottlieb

California State Capitol
Photo Credit: Adam Gottlieb
California Energy Commission


 

This section provides a listing of solar-related legislation that are either approved or currently in session from the time the California Solar Initiative was launched. For previous legislative summaries, please see the summary of energy-related legislation below.

 

Current Legislation

 

You can search to find the status of any current bill before the California Legislature or the U.S. Congress through these links.

 

Bill No. & (Author) Chapter Number Summary
AB 920 (Huffman) Chapter 376, Statutes of 2009 This bill will require electric distribution utilities and cooperatives to compensate eligible customer-generators, generating electricity with solar and wind energy systems, for any excess electricity they supply to the grid. The utilities and cooperatives will either provide a direct payment to the customer or credit the customer. This bill will also clarify that solar energy systems that are larger than is needed to serve a customer's on-site electricity needs, are still eligible for financial incentives under the California Solar Initiative and New Solar Homes Partnership, but may qualify for incentives for only that portion of the system's capacity needed to serve the customer's on-site needs.
AB 1031 (Blumenfield) Chapter 380, Statutes of 2009 This bill will allow community college, University of California, and California State University campuses to receive credit on their electric bill for power generated by a renewable energy facility by expanding the definition of "local government" as it relates to the California Solar Initiative.
AB 1351 (Blakeslee) Chapter 525, Statutes of 2009 This bill will authorize a state board or agency to be the applicable entity to issue the Renewables Portfolio Standard certification, pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act, for out-of-state hydroelectric generating facilities that have increased their generation incrementally via energy efficiency. The bill also requires that a hydroelectric facility be owned by a retail seller or local publicly owned electric utility.
AB 1551 (Committee on Utilities and Commerce) Chapter 336, Statutes of 2009 This bill will correct language that was codified last year that inadvertently restricted the size of all projects financed by the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority. This bill also revises the definition of 'low-income residential housing' relating to eligibility requirements for the California Solar Initiative program. This bill contains an urgency clause and extends net-metering eligibility for fuel cells though January 1, 2014.
SB 32 (Negrete McLeod) Chapter 328, Statues of 2009 This bill will revise and expand the current feed-in tariff program for eligible renewable electric generation facilities.
SB 412 (Kehoe) Chapter 182, Statutes of 2009 This bill will authorize the California Public Utilities Commission's to collect funds for the Self-Generation Incentive Program, as well as extend the administration of the program. Also, the California Public Utilities Commission, in consultation with the Air Resources Board, is required to determine what distributed energy resources are eligible for program incentives; and in the case of fossil fuel, add strict requirements for their operation.