What is Solar Energy?

Joe Brennan
Mar 21, 2024

Understanding the potential and mechanics of solar energy can sometimes seem challenging, yet it represents a crucial step towards energy independence and environmental sustainability. 

Solar energy, with its vast potential to power the entire world for a year with just one hour of sunlight, stands at the forefront of renewable energy solutions. It offers a clear path to reducing harmful emissions and tapping into an inexhaustible resource.

So, by knowing how sunlight is transformed into usable electricity, this blog aims to equip you with knowledge and insights into what solar energy is and how it benefits the world. So, without any further ado, let's get into it!

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Understanding how we turn sunlight into electricity is simpler than it might seem. So, let's break it down into easy steps.

The magic of solar panels

First off, solar panels play a starring role. These panels are made of many smaller units called solar cells, which are mostly made from silicon. When sunlight hits a solar cell, it sets off a fascinating process.

The photovoltaic effect

This process is known as the photovoltaic effect. In simple terms, when sunlight touches the solar cell, it excites the electrons in the silicon. This excitement causes the electrons to move, creating an electric current.

From sun to socket

Now, we have electricity, but it's not quite ready for use in our homes yet. The electricity generated is in a form called direct current (DC). Most homes use alternating current (AC). So, we need something to convert DC into AC. This is where an inverter comes into play.

The role of the inverter

The inverter takes the DC electricity from the solar panels and turns it into AC electricity. This AC electricity is what powers everything in your home, from lights to fridges.

A continuous cycle

As long as the sun is shining, this process keeps going, giving us a clean and renewable source of energy. And the best part? It all happens silently and without any moving parts.

In short, solar energy harnesses the sun's power through solar panels, converts this power through the photovoltaic effect, and then uses an inverter to make the electricity suitable for home use. It's a clean, efficient, and renewable way to power our lives. So, with these basics in mind, you're well on your way to understanding the incredible potential of solar energy.

Why is Solar Energy Important?

Solar energy plays a vital role in our shift towards a greener and more sustainable way of living. It offers us a limitless supply of clean power, unlike traditional energy sources like oil and coal, which can pollute our air and are bound to run out someday.

Furthermore, by capturing the sun's rays, we cut down on harmful emissions, making our air cleaner and our planet healthier. Plus, solar energy can also make our electricity bills cheaper, which is great for our wallets.

Moreover, choosing solar energy means we're taking a big step towards a better future for ourselves and the generations to come. It's not just about being kind to the environment; it's also a smart choice for a more sustainable lifestyle.

What Can Solar Energy Power?

Solar energy is like the superhero of power sources because it can do so many things. Big power plants can use it to make electricity for lots of homes and businesses. It's like when the sun powers huge areas, giving light and energy to lots of people at once.

For homes, solar panels on roofs can provide enough power for all the things inside, like lights, TVs, and fridges. It's like having your own mini-power station right at home!

Even in far-away places where it's hard to get electricity, solar energy can be a big help. It can power lights, charge phones, and even run water pumps for clean drinking water. It's like the sun is sending a little bit of its power to help out wherever it's needed.

So, solar energy is really cool because it can do so much, from big jobs to small ones, and it's all because of the sun.

What are the Costs and Savings Associated with Solar Energy?

Adopting solar energy in Ireland involves an initial investment, but it can lead to significant savings in the long run. The cost of installing solar panels in Ireland ranges widely, from approximately €5,000 to €18,000, depending on the system's size and specifications. For instance, a standard 3-bedroom semi-detached house might require a 4.35 kWp system, which could cost around €6,163 after accounting for an SEAI grant of €2,100. On the other hand, a larger 6-bedroom stand-alone house might fit a 6.96 kWp system on its roof, costing about €7,355 after the same grant​​​​.

The financial benefits of solar energy extend beyond installation costs. Solar panels can significantly reduce your electricity bills, and in Ireland, the average payback period for a solar PV system ranges from around 4 years and 7 months to 6 years and 4 months, depending on the system's size and your home's energy consumption. After this period, the electricity generated is essentially free, contributing to even greater savings​​.

Moreover, homeowners interested in solar energy can also benefit from government incentives, such as the SEAI grant, which can substantially reduce the upfront costs of solar panel installation. Additionally, investing in solar panels can increase your property's value and provide you with a cleaner, renewable energy source, reducing your carbon footprint and contributing to environmental sustainability​​​​.

Considering these factors, solar energy presents a compelling option for Irish homeowners looking to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprint, despite the initial investment required.

What are the Challenges and Benefits in Solar Energy Adoption?

Adopting solar energy comes with its own set of challenges. So, let's look at the challenges and benefits.

Challenges in solar energy adoption

  • High Initial Costs: The expense of purchasing and installing solar panels can be significant.
  • Intermittency: Solar power depends on sunlight, which isn't constant due to night, cloudy weather, and seasonal changes.
  • Space Requirements: Effective solar panel installation requires adequate space, which might not be available for everyone.
  • Need for Backup: Due to the intermittent nature of solar energy, backup systems are often necessary to ensure a consistent power supply.
  • Geographic Limitations: Solar energy production can be less effective in areas with less sunlight.

Benefits for solar energy adoption

  • Government Incentives: Tax credits, subsidies, and grants can help offset the high upfront costs of solar energy systems.
  • Technological Advancements: Improvements in solar panel efficiency and energy storage technology can resolve intermittency issues.
  • Community Solar Projects: Allows individuals to benefit from solar energy without having to install panels on their property.
  • Energy Storage Improvements: Batteries and other storage solutions can store excess energy for use during low sunlight periods.
  • Public Awareness: Education and awareness campaigns can help people understand the benefits and feasibility of solar energy.


Exploring solar energy reveals its potential as a clean, renewable power source capable of significantly impacting our energy consumption and environmental footprint. Despite challenges such as initial costs and intermittency, solutions like government incentives and technological advancements offer promising avenues to harness the sun's power more efficiently. 

If you're considering making the switch to solar, Going Solar provides expert assistance, guiding you through every step to unlock solar energy's benefits. Explore solar energy with Going Solar today to help make the future more secure.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 5 uses of solar energy?

Solar energy is primarily used for generating electricity, heating water, powering homes and businesses, charging batteries, and providing lighting. For more detailed information on the uses of solar energy.

Can solar energy be stored for later use?

Yes, solar energy can be stored in battery systems for use when sunlight is not available, ensuring a continuous power supply.

Is solar energy expensive?

The initial setup cost can be high, but solar energy saves money over time by reducing electricity bills and may be offset by government incentives.

Can solar panels work on cloudy days?

Yes, solar panels can still generate electricity on cloudy days, though their efficiency is reduced compared to sunny conditions.

How long do solar panels last?

Solar panels typically have a lifespan of 25–30 years, maintaining good efficiency throughout their use.

Are there any environmental impacts from solar energy?

Solar energy is one of the cleanest power sources with minimal environmental impact, significantly reducing carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.

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*FYI, parts of this blog post were drafted by artificial technlogy. But rest assured, it's been thoroughly researched, edited, reviewed and me & my team.
Author Fahad Zahid
Founder @ Going Solar

Joe Brennan, the founder of Going Solar, is dedicated to making solar power mainstream in Ireland and meet SEAI objectives. With a focus on affordability and sustainability, he is bringing renewable energy solutions to homes, reducing costs & environmental impact.