From the sun to your toaster, here’s how solar energy works


The dog days of summer are here, all right, and we’ve never been happier about having an energy efficient HVAC system to cool us down. (Or a neighbor with a swimming pool. Either one suits us just fine.)

On the hottest days, it’s easy to shake a fist at the sun and wonder why we put up with it at all. Why not start new lives underground, where it’s cool and it’s dark and the only thing to worry about is the occasional vampire bat?

But here at POWER MOVES®, we think the sun gets a bad rap on these hot, humid days. We’d go so far as to say we think the sun has just loads of great qualities. For one thing, it makes the planet habitable, and we’re big fans of being alive. But if that doesn’t impress you, how about this: Sunlight can actually be used to power your home.

If you’ve heard about Co-op Solar, then you already know we’re harvesting sunlight to create electricity. Maybe you’ve even signed up for a block or two yourself. But what you might not know is how the whole thing works. Just how, exactly, does all that raw sunlight zipping through space become the electricity that browns your toast in the morning?

It starts like this: What we think of as “sunlight” is actually composed of smaller particles called photons. To understand how they create electricity, you might think of a photon as a little brick of energy. When a photon hits the cell of a solar panel, that brick collides with atoms and knocks loose a few electrons. This little act of quantum vandalism is the first step in creating electricity.

Because once those electrons are loose, solar cells can gather them up and send them through a circuit, using positive and negative charges to direct them in the same direction. Electricity is then generated by the flow of these electrons, just like a powerful river can start with a few trickles of water running down the same ravine. Each solar cell contributes to this flow, and with many cells forming a solar panel, and many solar panels forming an array, an awful lot of electricity can be generated very quickly.

And once it’s generated, all that electricity becomes what’s called direct current. That just means that the captured electrons are sent to flow one direction around a circuit. In order to be sent safely through the power grid, a solar inverter converts that direct current into alternating current, just like what you use at home.

It’s a simple principle, but it’s got big implications for our energy future. And best of all, you can get a piece of it. With Co-op Solar, you decide how much solar energy is right for you. There’s no equipment to install, and no hardware to maintain. You just sign up and start using clean solar energy.

If you still have questions, or you’d just like to learn more, contact your local energy advisor. After all, that big, bright sun isn’t going anywhere—but you can harness its energy to power your A/C.