How Do Solar Panels Work? The Technology Explained

Everyone has been there. You go to pay your power bill and notice that it’s higher.

Why does electricity cost so much? Isn’t there some way to save money on power?

One possible way to save money on electricity is to install solar panels. But how do solar panels work? And are they really worth it? Keep reading to learn all about solar panels.

What Are Photovoltaic Cells?

If you’ve ever asked the question “what are solar panels?” you might have heard of photovoltaic cells. Although there are several types of solar panels, by far the most common type uses this type of cell.

The word photovoltaic comes from the Greek word photo meaning light and from the last name of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta who was a pioneer in the early research of electricity.

Putting these together, the word photovoltaic means generating electricity from light.

Photovoltaic cells use some kind of semiconductor material, usually silicon. Normally, a given material is either a conductor or an insulator.

Conductors allow electrons to move freely within them so that a charge can flow and produce a current. Insulators, on the other hand, don’t allow electrons to flow freely. They keep their electrons bound to their atoms.

However, when a material allows some electrons to flow but keeps some bound, it is called a semiconductor.

A semiconductor can be made from silicon by adding impurities in a process called doping. Doping the silicon with phosphorous gives it extra electrons and an overall negative charge.

Doping with boron removes some electrons which leaves it with a positive charge.

How Does the Sun Make Energy?

But how do we get electricity from semiconductors? First, we need to look at where the energy comes from.

The light that we see from the sun starts off in the sun’s core. The sun produces energy through a process called nuclear fusion. This just means that the pressure inside the sun’s core fuse together the nucleus of atoms.

Although there are several methods of fusion that can produce energy in the sun, the most common is believed to be the proton-proton chain reaction. It starts off with two hydrogen nuclei that collide.

These two nuclei, also called protons, form a nucleus of deuterium which consists of a proton and a neutron.

When the deuterium nucleus collides with another proton, they stick together to form an isotope of helium which consists of two protons and a neutron.

When two of these isotopes collide together, they form a helium nucleus and two free protons. These protons go on to start their own processes, making this a chain reaction.

During some of the steps in this reaction, energy is released in the form of light. It is this light that reaches us here on Earth where we can use it.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

So how do photovoltaic cells actually turn the light from the sun into electricity? These cells are made up of layers of semiconductors.

The top layer is made of silicon doped with phosphorous while the bottom layer is doped with boron. This gives the two layers an opposite charge from one another.

The opposite charge of the two layers creates an electric field which helps to push electrons in one direction.

When light from the sun hits a photovoltaic cell, the energy from the light knocks off an electron from one of the atoms within the cell. When a lot of light hits it, it knocks off many electrons.

The electric field guides all of these electrons in one direction where they become the electricity we use. A solar panel consists of many photovoltaic cells put together to build up more electricity.

Since the electrons are all flowing in one direction, this electricity becomes direct current, or DC. However, our homes and businesses almost always use alternating current, or AC.

This means that solar panels also need some kind of power converter to change the DC to AC so that we can use it to power our appliances and devices.

What Are the Benefits of Solar Panels?

There can be many benefits to buying solar panels for your home or business. One of the biggest is financial.

Although the initial investment for solar panels is relatively high, over time it can start to pay for itself and even make money.

One of the biggest factors is that you’ll use less electricity from the power company. On sunny days, you may even generate more electricity than you use. This extra electricity goes back into the grid.

Many power companies give credits to people who add electricity to the grid in this way.

In addition, the federal government gives tax credits to people for installing solar panels.

Besides the financial benefits of switching to solar power, another big advantage is that solar power is renewable. It may be an important step in our independence from fossil fuels.

There are many solar panel options for you to choose from, but if you are in the Asheville, NC area, you might consider Blue Raven for your solar panel needs.

Are Solar Panels Right for You?

Now that we’ve answered the question “How do solar panels work?” and looked at some of their benefits, feel free to do some more research on your own and decide if installing solar panels is right for you.

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