One point twenty-one jigawatts?

In the sixth grade I conducted electricity through my braces and lit a light bulb during science class. I remember the oohs and ahhs well, but I don't really remember how electricity actually works. Well, that's not exactly true. But, I don't remember well enough to understand how one uses the electricity from solar panels. I get that solar cells convert sunlight into electricity, but then what? What are the panels attached to so that you can use the energy? The image of 1.21 gigawatts of electricity generated from the bolt of lightning traveling down the cable and directly into the flux capacitor don't exactly help me here!

  • The U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy site gives a good overview of photovoltaic (PV) energy systems, and current uses of these systems throughout the country and the world. There are actually a few different systems for using the electricity that is generated -- you can use it immediately in a stand-alone system (like water pumps), store the energy in batteries, and even send unused electricity back to your utility company through a net metering arrangement.
  • The American Solar Energy Society provides some clarification on how to use the harnessed energy from PV systems, as well as excellent educational resources and practical considerations and resources for anyone wanting to use solar energy in their home or business.
  • The Energy Story and the Energy Administration Information sites simplify everything and makes it a little bit more accessible.
I reserve the right (as if I need to!) to post about this topic again. But in the mean time, I will close by saying that my sixth-grade teacher was pretty nervous about my conducting electricity through my mouth, and discouraged others from trying the same trick, but I didn't feel a thing.

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