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how does solar work?

Answering the question, ‘How does solar work?’

At SRP, we are committed to using cleaner energy to power your lives. This includes investing in research and development to advance solar in the desert.  

Solar power generated at large utility-scale solar farms plays a significant role in our renewable equation. 

To summarize the process simply, solar panels capture energy from the sun and the electrical grid distributes that energy to homes and businesses across the Valley. Solar power is also captured and stored in batteries to be used later. It’s important to understand how solar interacts with Arizona’s power grid; there can’t be one without the other.

This is because before powering homes, the electricity captured through solar panels must first enter the electrical grid to be reduced to a safe voltage. The grid transports electricity from solar farms to power homes and businesses.   

Solar is evolving our grid

Our communities are powered by electricity delivered through an interconnected series of power plants and wires. Together they form the grid. 

Traditionally, large power plants send high-voltage electricity over long distances via a transmission system to smaller distribution stations. The distribution stations then reduce the voltage of the electricity so that it can safely power homes and businesses. 

The components of the grid must harmoniously communicate with each other to ensure a constant and reliable flow of power. This means that the flow of power must increase or decrease to match the variable nature of customer demand

The variable demand requires SRP to maintain a reliable energy mix that can supply enough electricity to more than 1 million customers during peak hours. 

Turning sunshine into electricity

SRP supports the development of utility-scale solar projects. Much like buying in bulk at Costco or Sam’s Club, SRP purchases solar energy in large quantities to get our customers the lowest prices.  

Utility-scale solar, known to many customers as solar fields or farms, uses large panels that slowly rotate and follow the path of the sun throughout the day. This allows them to generate energy for more hours of the day than fixed panels. 

This type of solar is funded by the community and the utility and is mixed with other power sources, giving all of our customers the chance to benefit from solar energy. Bonus: You don’t have to maintain the equipment! 

Customers who are interested in owning rooftop solar systems may find the investment to be worthwhile for their personal sustainability outlook. We encourage customers to first try out SRP’s solar calculator in SRP My Account™ to help estimate the costs. We also recommend working with an SRP preferred solar installer to fully understand the process.  

Call (602) 889-2657 for preferred installers near you or to learn if the company you’ve chosen to work with is on our preferred list.

Solar panels need battery storage

The time of day when solar energy output is highest does not align with when customer demand is highest. As you can imagine, the largest spike in customer demand is seen after work hours when people are returning home and using large appliances and running their ACs cooler. 

The second-largest spike in demand occurs in the morning when people are typically preparing to leave their homes for the day. Both rooftop and utility-scale solar systems naturally decrease production right around the time our customers need it most. 

Additionally, electricity must be available at the very moment you need it. You flip a switch or start an appliance; we send more electricity. 

While the sun is abundant here in the low desert of the Southwest, cloudy days do occur, and the sun does go down every night. So how do we provide reliable power with an intermittent resource like solar? 

Battery storage saves the day

Fortunately, battery storage systems allow SRP to capture clean renewable energy produced during sunny hours and release it on demand. That way, solar power is available even when the sun is not shining. 

Battery storage is still a new and evolving resource. Engineering experts around the world are working to better understand it not only to help batteries sync with the rest of the grid, but to control battery discharge so that it occurs only when customers need it. 

As our learning progresses, we look to batteries as a flexible asset that will bridge the gap between when solar power is produced and when it is needed most. It also helps us keep power reliable while adding more renewable, carbon-free energy. We recently brought our largest battery storage facility online to help navigate peak usage periods. 

While solar energy is a critical step in decarbonizing and combatting climate change, it takes thoughtful planning to integrate it into our energy mix. That’s why we are taking a responsible approach to keeping our customers in power with other reliable and affordable sources while bringing more solar online. There is more than 1,500 MW of large-scale solar currently under development, which will bring SRP’s total solar energy to more than 2,025 MW, once operational.

The future of solar energy

SRP is working with its customers to charge ahead into a clean energy future powered by renewable resources. You can join the effort to advance solar in the desert today.  

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