One of the most common questions we are asked is how do solar panels work turning sunlight into AC electricity ready to consume onsite.

Every solar PV system is made up of several components: solar panels (or ‘modules’), an inverter, a meter and your existing consumer unit.

In this guide, we will concisely explain how solar panels work with helpful diagrams and a step by step explanation.

How solar panels work



A diagram showing how solar panels work

Solar Energy Diagram

This solar panel diagram shows how solar energy is converted to create free electricity for your business or home.

Click on our Solar Energy Diagram to enlarge.

Find more in-depth information on how solar panels work here.


How solar panels work step by step

  1. The sun gives off light, even on cloudy days.
  2. PV cells on the panels turn the light into DC electricity.
  3. The current flows into an inverter, which converts it to AC electricity ready to use.
  4. The current is fed through a meter and then into your home’s consumer unit.
  5. Plug in and switch on. Your system will automatically use the free electricity you’ve generated, then switch back to the grid as needed.
  6. Any electricity you don’t use is exported to the grid for others to use.


What is solar radiation?

Solar radiation is most commonly known as daylight and powers solar photovoltaic panels. However, not all locations receive the same amount or concentration of solar radiation. Think of the strength of the sun in Scotland versus Spain, for example.

Solar radiation map of the UK

Solar Radiation Map UK

This is the same in the UK; some locations receive more irradiation than others. According to PVGIS (the European Commission software to estimate energy production from PV panels), the difference in the amount of electricity produced from a 4 kWp system on a south-facing 30 degree pitched roof in John O’Groats and Lands End is 840 kWh/year.

Click on our Solar Radiation  Map of the UK to see an enlarged image.

These calculations take into account the total irradiation received over the course of the year under different conditions. Where direct solar radiation is not blocked by clouds, we experience it as sunshine. Where it is blocked by clouds or reflects off other objects, we experience this as diffused light. Diffused light will produce less power than unblocked light because it has a lower concentration of solar radiation.

Find out more about the benefits of solar panels.

Lower your organisation’s energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint today. Learn more about the bespoke solar panel systems that we can design, build and maintain for your business today.