How Solar PV Works

How solar PV works

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are generally fitted on the roof in a northerly direction and at an angle to maximise the amount of sunlight that hits the panels.

Solar PV panels on the roofs of homes and businesses generate clean electricity by converting the energy in sunlight. This conversion takes place within modules of specially fabricated materials that make up the solar panels. It is a relatively simple process that requires no moving parts. In most cases, solar panels are connected to the mains power supply through a device called an inverter.

Solar panels are different to solar hot water systems, which are also mounted on household roof-tops but use the heat from the sun to provide hot water for household uses.

The technology to convert sunlight into electricity was developed in the 19th century, but it was only in the second half of the 20th century that development accelerated behind the need to provide reliable supplies of electricity in remote locations – from satellites in space to outback Australia.

Solar panels have been installed on the rooftops of houses and other buildings in Australia since the 1970s. Currently there are more than 1.25 million small-scale solar panel systems safely and reliably delivering clean electricity across Australia.

Grid-connected solar PV systems

Most suburban homes in Australia are connected to the electricity grid, which uses alternating current electricity (AC). But the electricity generated by solar panels is direct current (DC). That means grid-connected (GC) solar PV systems need an inverter to transform the DC electricity into AC electricity suitable for ordinary household needs.

Houses with solar systems use solar power first before sourcing electricity from the grid. At night, when the panels are not producing electricity, power is supplied from the existing electricity grid.

For systems that include a battery backup, the inverter regulates the charging of batteries during the day. The electricity stored in those batteries can then be used at night or during blackouts.

Average daily production of a solar PV system

The power output of a solar PV system depends on its efficiency, size and location. The table below shows the average daily production of some common grid-connected systems throughout Australia.


City 1 kW
1.5 kW
2.0 kW
3.0 kW
4.0 kW
Adelaide 4.2 kWh 6.3 kWh 8.4 kWh 12.6 kWh 16.8 kWh
Alice Springs 5.0 kWh 7.5 kWh 10.0 kWh 15.0 kWh 20.0 kWh
Brisbane 4.2 kWh  6.3 kWh 8.4 kWh 12.6 kWh 16.8 kWh
Cairns 4.2 kWh 6.3 kWh 8.4 kWh 12.6 kWh 16.8 kWh
Canberra 4.3 kWh 6.45 kWh 8.6 kWh 12.9 kWh 17.2 kWh
Darwin 4.4 kWh 6.6 kWh 8.8 kWh 13.2 kWh 17.6 kWh
Hobart 3.5 kWh 5.25 kWh 7.0 kWh 10.5 kWh 14.0 kWh
Melbourne 3.6 kWh 5.4 kWh 7.2 kWh 10.8 kWh 14.4 kWh
Perth 4.4 kWh 6.6 kWh 8.8 kWh 13.2 kWh 17.6 kWh
Sydney 3.9 kWh 5.85 kWh 7.8 kWh 11.7 kWh 15.6 kWh


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