How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels harvest the power from the sun’s rays and convert that power into solar energy. But have you ever wondered, “How do solar panels really work?” or “How is solar energy created?” Let’s take a look at how solar panels create electricity.
How are solar panels made?
Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells that generate direct current (DC) through two layers of silicon. The photovoltaic cells are joined together in a metal frame or glass casing. Thin wiring attracts the DC current and directs it out of the solar panel.
How do Solar Panels Create Electricity?
Silicon, a nonmetallic semiconductor, is the main ingredient in a photovoltaic (PV) cell. As it soaks up sunlight, the light particles collide with the silicon atoms and knocks off their electrons. The movement of the electrons creates a flow of electric current. This is known as the photovoltaic effect. The thin wires capture this direct current and direct it to a solar inverter.
How do Solar Panels Work?
Let’s get even a little more specific and a little more technical about how solar panels convert solar power into electrical energy. A photovoltaic cell is an electrical sandwich. In the middle are two slices of different types of silicon. There is an N-type that is negatively charged and the P-type that is positively charged. The “bun” of the photovoltaic sandwich is made up of metal contacts that attract the free electrons. Then the whole sandwich is wrapped in glass.
A ray of sun carries tiny photons. When a photon hits the PV cell hard enough it knocks off an electron off the silicon atom which is pushed up to the N-side and it leaves a hole which is drawn to the P-side. It is just like the opposing force that is created when you try to put the positive and negative ends of a magnet together. As the electron moves around the solar cell along the thin wires seeking a hole to move into, an electrical current is created. This movement creates an electrical circuit.
What is so great about solar panels is that there are no movable parts. There is no loss to the atoms or their electrons. So as long as the physical components of the sandwich remain intact, the system will work indefinitely.
How does a solar panel power my home?
Your home runs on AC or alternating current, but your solar panel generates DC or direct current. In order to convert the solar energy to a usable current, it must be directed to a solar inverter. If your home is connected to the electrical grid, then you would be using a grid-tie inverter. If your electrical panel produces more electricity than your home needs, you can send power back into the electrical grid and receive credits from your electrical company. If your panels are only producing a portion of the electricity your home needs, then the grid will make up the difference.