How Solar Panels Work

December 3, 2020
Posted in Solar Energy
December 3, 2020 Dan

We all know that our solar panels transform sunlight into usable electricity, but few know the actual science behind the process. A standard solar panel, or solar module, consists of many parts:

  • A layer of photovoltaic cells
  • A metal frame
  • Glass casing
  • Metal wiring

Solar Panels are comprised of small photovoltaic cells.  Photovoltaic cells are made of two layers of Silicon, dosed with either phosphorous or boron.  Silicon is a semiconductive nonmetal that allows for the conversion of sunlight into electricity.  When light hits the silicon cell, it causes electrons to be set into motion, which initiates a flow of electrical current.

This is known as the “photovoltaic effect.”  The top layer of the photovoltaic cell is seeded with phosphorous that is electron rich, resulting in a more negative charge. The bottom layer is seeded with boron, which results in less electron, and more positive charge. This allows for a positively and negatively charged semiconductive layers, creating an electric field. When light hits the top layer of the panel, electrons are displaced between the two layers and a flow of electricity is created.

This electric field forces the drifting electrons to flow in a certain direction- towards the conductive metal plates that line the cell. This flow is known as an energy current, and the strength of the current determines how much electricity each cell can produce. Once the loose electrons hit metal plates, the current is then directed into wires, allowing the flow of electrons out of the panel.

So, solar panels work by absorbing sunlight with photovoltaic cells, generating direct current (DC). DC energy is then converted to usable alternating current (AC) energy through the use of the panel’s Inverter.  AC energy then flows through the home’s electrical panel and is distributed accordingly. For more information on how solar panels work, check out Energy Sages great article, How Solar Panels Work!

Basic Lifecycle of energy in a Solar Panel

  1. Photovoltaic cells absorb the sun’s energy and convert it to DC electricity.
  2. The solar inverter converts DC electricity from your solar modules to AC electricity through the help of a solar inverter, which is used by most home appliances
  3. Electricity flows through your home, powering electronic devices.
  4. Excess electricity produced by solar panels is fed to the electric grid.

Interested in purchasing a solar system for your home? Check out AES’s Contact Page here to find out more!