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How Solar Power Works

Learn how sunlight is turned into electricity.

The sun’s energy can be used to produce electricity, either through photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight directly into electricity, or by solar thermal collectors that convert water to steam which runs a turbine.

Solar technology today costs slightly more than traditional energy sources, but solar power has no fuel costs and no air emissions or waste and uses very little water. We are involved in several projects to help test and advance promising solar technologies because more can be done to improve the output and efficiency and help bring down the cost. Certain areas of the United States have more intense sun ideal for solar energy production. Xcel Energy is fortunate to operate in some of these areas.

  1. When the sun shines...
  2. on a solar cell, loose electrons are created that flow to create electricity.
  3. Solar cells are combined into solar panels, which may be installed on buildings or arranged in large groups called arrays to create more power.
  4. A controller decides where electricity from the panels is used.
  5. You may use some in your home.
  6. Some may be stored in a battery for future use.
  7. Extra electricity may be distributed to your electric utility for other people to use.

Solar Power Resources

Solar Electric Power Association (external link)
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (external link)
Energy Classroom
SolarTAC (external link)
Colorado Integrated Solar Project Fact Sheet (PDF)


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Energy Saving Tip

What's the point in filling your home with cool or warm air, only to have it disappear? Invest in high quality insulation to help keep temperature-controlled air where it belongs.

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Break Ground, Not the Law

Always call 811 before digging in your yard to avoid hitting buried gas or electric lines. Not only is it the safe thing to do, but it's the law.