Living in California, you know that the sun shines a lot. It’s probably one of the reasons you love your west coast home the most (and why you are the envy of most of the U.S.). Even during “June gloom,” that morning fog burns away to give way to glorious California sunshine. That sunshine can do more for you than give you excellent tennis weather and a bronze goddess tan. That glorious sunshine can power your home. Did you know that solar power’s been growing rapidly in California because of a Renewable Portfolio Standard? That’s a Federal regulation requiring 20 percent of California’s electricity to come from renewable sources, such as solar energy by 2010, increasing to 33 percent by 2020. At least five solar plants are under construction in the desert right now.
Consider modifying your house to produce solar power. The most common way is with solar panels, more properly called photovoltaic cells. Sunlight passing through the panels is converted into alternating current by an inverter. Alternating current is the type of electricity we use in the United States, so the current generated by solar panels is available for use by the house’s electrical system. Your local utility system buys back the extra electricity you generate. Think about it: the sun that falls on your house pays for your gas range and clothes dryer to operate. That’s why solar panels for homeowners make sense from an economic and social standpoint.
Here’s how electricity comes from solar panels. It starts when sunlight hits the panels. As you might expect, the brighter and more direct the sunlight, the more power it produces. This means placing the panels in good locations, say on parts of the roof facing west or south. Make sure there’s nothing shading the panels, no overhang of an upper story’s roof, no shade trees and no deep shadows from neighboring buildings. Now the panel converts sunlight into direct current. Solar panels are made of two layers of silicon, the same silicon that revolutionized computers. Units of solar energy called photons hit the upper layer of silicon; this moves electrons from the silicon. The freed electrons carried away by wires form direct current. Direct current can’t be used in the United States though; the United States uses alternating current. To convert direct current into alternating current, the parade of electron along the wire goes into the inverter. The inverter is usually attached to the electrical meter. What goes into the electrical system is now alternating current. What’s needed is used and what’s extra goes to the utility company. This is called net metering. If you are particularly interested in learning how to become a solar panel installer, you live in the right state to make a living and help the environment at the same time!