Solar 101: A Beginner's Guide to Solar Energy Systems

Jul 28, 2015

What does Solar PV stand for? What is the difference between solar electricity and solar thermal? Keep reading! This is….

Solar 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Solar Energy Systems

There are two main types of Solar Energy systems:

  1. Solar electricity, or Photovoltaic (PV) systems – Photovoltaic cells, photo meaning “light” and voltaic meaning “electricity,” convert the radiant energy from the sun (or light) into an electric current (or electricity). Photovoltaics were first used in space in 1958 to power electrical systems for satellites. Now they can be found in solar-powered calculators, electric vehicle charging stations and solar panels on rooftops. Photovoltaic cells contain semiconductors, which absorb light when it hits the cell, thereby transferring the light’s energy to the semiconductor. A semiconductor is a material that can conduct electricity under some conditions but not others, making it a good medium to control electrical current.
  2. Solar Thermal systems – These convert solar energy into usable heat

This includes:

  • Solar Air Heat – Uses solar energy to heat up the air in a house, business, or industrial building
  • Solar Water Heat – Uses solar energy to heat up water for houses or businesses

What is the process to create electricity using a Solar PV System?

  1. Solar Panels – These panels consist of photovoltaic (PV) cells that transform energy from the sun into a direct current (DC) electricity
  2. Inverter – This converts the DC electricity into a usable alternating current (AC) electricity
  3. Electric Panel – The AC electricity runs into an electric panel, also known as a breaker box or fuse box, in order to directly power things that use electricity, such as a TV
  4. Utility Meter – This measures the energy use of a building or home
  5. Utility Grid – Unless a solar system is off-grid, the system will be connected to the utility grid. Either a solar system can:
  • Feed all of its electricity into the grid (like SolarShare’s systems do)


  • In the case of residential PV systems, it can both produce electricity to be used in that building, sell any excess electricity to the grid, and get electricity incoming from the grid when the sun isn’t shining

Photo Credit: PV Solar Systems Ltd.

Now that you have a better understanding of how solar energy works, you are more prepared to get involved in supporting the transition off fossil fuels to a clean energy economy in Canada!

There are quite a few myths surrounding solar energy out there. We've debunked 4 of them here.