How do solar panels work?

In short, solar panels generate electricity from sunlight that hits the panels. The sunlight particles or photons will knock the electrons free from their atoms. This movement of these electrons is the electricity that solar panels capture and turn into a direct electrical current. This is a short explanation of how photovoltaic cells work in a solar panel. We’ll go in-depth into how solar panels work.

The components of solar panels:

A standard solar panel consists of multiple parts:

  • The main parts are photovoltaic cells made of silicon. The silicon is treated with phosphorus and boron to give it positive and negative charges. These charges help them to carry an electric current. Silicon photovoltaic cells can come in monocrystalline or polycrystalline formations. Monocrystalline cells consist of a single silicon crystal, which gives more room for electrons to move and are more efficient. Polycrystalline cells are made up of fragments or shards of silicon. These polycrystalline cells are less expensive than monocrystalline cells.
  • An exterior glass casing. This casing acts as durable protection for all of the silicon PV cells.
  • A layer of insulation and a protective back sheet. These protect the inside of the panel from heat and humidity. If the temperature is too high, the efficiency and overall output of the solar panel will go down.
  • An anti-reflective coating that increases sunlight absorption and allows the silicon cells to receive maximum sunlight exposure.

All of the components listed above are assembled to create a single solar energy panel.

How do solar panels generate electricity?

Understanding the Photovoltaic Effect

The photovoltaic effect was discovered back in 1839 by Edmond Becquerel. The effect generally applies to specific materials that can generate electricity from sunlight exposure. These materials can be called semiconductors. The photovoltaic process works through these steps:

  1. The semiconductor absorbs solar radiation from the sun.
  2. When the sun’s rays interact with the semiconductor, the electrons begin to move which begins the flow of electric current.
  3. Wires then capture and feed this direct current (DC) electricity. This is then fed into an inverter to be converted to alternating current (AC) electricity.
Solar Generation

How this process works in solar panels:

  1. The sun’s rays hit the photovoltaic cell and are absorbed by the silicon, which is the semiconductor. The photons cause electrons to be knocked away, creating a current.
  2. The electrical current generated is captured by the metal plates on the sides of each solar cell. The collected electrons are then transferred to wires in the form of direct current (DC) energy.
  3. The DC energy from the solar panel is then fed into an inverter. The inverter works by quickly switching the current’s direction to turn it into AC power. This AC power is then fed into your home’s electrical box, distributed throughout your home. Here is our article explaining how inverters work.

These steps can cover the basics of how solar panels operate, there are many detailed nuances in their technology. Solar technology is constantly improving, which shows through the new and improved panel models developed by manufacturers as time goes on. These improvements can lead to future solar panel models becoming more efficient. Able to produce large amounts of energy in smaller sizes. While this may be in the future, most homes currently have their solar energy system connected to the electrical grid.

How does the electrical grid work with solar panels?

While solar panels generate power on their own, they may not reliably generate enough power for your home throughout an entire year. Unless you have an energy storage solution and your home is off the grid. Your home utilities are tied to the electrical grid of your utility company. Homes tied to the grid have a utility meter that supplies and counts the power used. When a solar energy system is installed on your home, it is connected to the meter and allows energy to flow both ways. The meter will keep track of the excess energy from your system that is fed into the grid. This excess energy is counted as credits through a policy called net metering. 

The benefit of net metering is that it allows you to stock up on credits when you have a surplus of energy. When you aren’t producing enough energy from your solar energy system, these credits will cut down the cost of the energy you use from the grid. These benefits are convenient and economic for everyone.

Solar Generation

Installing solar panels for your home:

If you are interested in installing solar panels, we have a variety of solar panel models listed on our website. Our website also has a free online estimate tool that generates a personalized report for you from a simplified questionnaire. That report will contain the potential savings you can net, and the cost of a solar energy system installed on your property. You can also contact us directly via phone at +1 (602) 363-8919 or via email at Scott@elitesolarenergy.org for more information regarding solar energy for your property.