Many people have begun looking into making their homes and businesses into solar powered households. Over the last few decades, solar energy has begun to increase in popularity, offering it’s users an alternative energy source that is both renewable, as well as beneficial to the environment. Solar panels have become more prevalent, and have begun showing up on roofs, billboards, and even in space. In Spring of 2018, The Planetary Society will be launching a spacecraft into earth’s orbit, propelled solely by sunlight, revealing just how advanced solar energy has become. Yet, while solar energy has become more common in our everyday lives, a lot of us still wonder, how do solar panels work?
First, particles of light (photons), knock negatively charged particles (electrons) free from atoms, allowing electricity to flow. The solar panels then work to create electricity from sunlight, with the use of photovoltaic cells. The combination of multiple photovoltaic cells comprise a solar panel.
Photovoltaic cells are composed of layers of semi-conducting materials. To create the energy used for solar panels, photovoltaic cells must create an electric field in which opposite charges are separated. To create this electric field, manufactures introduce silicon to other materials, that will alter the electrical charge of the cells either negatively or positively. Phosphorous materials are often mixed with the top layer of silicon to increase the amount of negatively charged electrons in that layer. However, boron is often mixed with the bottom layer of silicon to decrease the amount of electrons present. These different mixtures of silicon and boron or phosphorus materials, result in the creation of an electric field between the different layers. Next, a photon of sunlight knocks an electron free, allowing the electric field to propell that electron out of the silicon layer.
Another aspect of the photovoltaic cell turns electrons into usable energy. The presence of conductive metal plates on the edges of the cells also collect electrons and transfer them to wires. Once this happens, the electrons are able to move like any other type of electricity.
While photovoltaic solar panels are very commonly used, solar thermal and concentrated solar power are also types of solar technology that are used, and function differently than photovoltaic solar panels. However, while their operations may differ, they still use sunlight to create electricity, or to heat water or air.
Do you want to go more in depth about how solar panels work? Check out this Ted Ed Talk by Richard Komp below.
Give us a call, and let us answer any questions that you may have, and help you figure out whether solar energy is a good choice for your household.