How does solar work?
While solar is comprised of a diverse suite of technologies, there are three main types: photovoltaics (PV), solar heating & cooling (SHC), and concentrating solar power (CSP). Solar heating & cooling systems are typically installed on residential or commercial properties, while CSP is only used for large utility-scale power plants. PV technology can be harnessed both at utility-scale levels as well as in distributed generation on homes and businesses.
PV panels directly produce electricity from sunlight, while CSP and SHC technologies use the sun's thermal (heat) energy to change the temperature of water and air. PV panels have no moving parts, and use an inverter to change the direct current (DC) power they produce to usable alternating current (AC) power. SHC technologies are often used to heat water for domestic or commercial use, but can also be used to heat or cool the air in buildings.
Most concentrating solar power systems use concentrated sunlight to drive a traditional steam turbine, creating electricity on a large scale.
Visit SEIA's solar technology section to learn more about the various types and applications for solar energy systems.
For an in-depth look at how solar panels work, check out this animated graphic from Save On Energy: