I believe all they do is charge batteries whenever there is more energy being produced than the power plant needs to provide (to whatever is plugged into it—or being sent back to the grid). But most systems do not even have a battery storage system, because usually there is a need for all the energy that a solar panel can provide—definitely when the solar unit is tied into the grid, they use a “power inverter” that does the trick of blending it in—so there is rarely excess energy… Furthermore:
Batteries are not that easy to charge (and build and store). In other words, they are inefficient. Check out this awesome article about HOW THERMAL ENERGY IS A MUCH MORE EFFICIENT WAY TO STORE THE EXCESS SOLAR POWER WE CAN GET THROUGHOUT THE DAY OR THE WEEK— AND THAT HEAT CAN LATER BE USED TO SPIN A GENERATOR AND PROVIDE ENERGY THAT WAY — THE MULTIMEDIA SECTION ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE IS AN AWESOME DEMONSTRATION OF HOW THIS WOULD WORK!
Actually if you are producing more energy than your home is consuming then it is sent back to the utility company and is credited to you next bill! This is called net-metering, if you are consuming less and producing more than your utility company will credit you bill each month, and if you decide to move and you have a negative balance then they will write you a check for that! There is also feed-in tariffs, it is very similar to net-metering except instead of giving you credit on each bill they will actually give you money for producing more energy than you are consuming!
On a small scale, photovoltaic panels convert energy from the sun into electricity that may be sent to a battery bank of rechargable batteries. These batteries can be used right away or may store energy for use at a later time.
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