About Solar Cells

Adrienne SorensenSeptember 10, 20188220

About Solar Cells

Here we’ll take a look at solar cells and why we think costs keep dropping while efficiency keeps improving.

Made of Photovoltaic cells

A panel is made up of six different components, but arguably the most important one is the photovoltaic (PV) cell, which generates electricity. The conversion of sunlight into electrical energy by a solar cell is called the photovoltaic effect, and that’s why we refer to solar cells as “photovoltaic.”


There are many photovoltaic cells within a single solar panel. A panel used in a rooftop residential system will have 60 cells linked together, and commercial solar installations often use larger panels with 72 or more photovoltaic cells.

Photovoltaic cells, through the photovoltaic effect, absorb sunlight and generate flowing electricity. Here is the real technical version. In a crystal, like the bonds are made of electrons that are shared between all of the atoms of the crystal. The light gets absorbed, and one of the electrons that's in one of the bonds gets excited up to a higher energy level and can move around more freely than when it was bound. That electron can then move around the crystal freely, and we can get a current.

First, light strikes a cell and is absorbed by the semiconducting material it is made from. This incoming light energy causes electrons in the silicon to be knocked loose, which will eventually become the solar electricity you can use in your home.

There are two layers of silicon used in cells, and each one is specially treated, or “doped”, to create an electric field, meaning one side has a net positive charge and one has a net negative charge. The electric field causes loose electrons to flow in one direction through the photovoltaic cell, generating an electrical current.

Once an electrical current is generated by loose electrons, metal plates on the sides of each solar cell collect those electrons and transfer them to wires. At this point, electrons can flow as electricity through the wiring to a solar inverter and then throughout your home.

Cells Create Electricity

A photovoltaic cell on its own cannot produce enough usable electricity for more than a small electronic gadget. In order to produce the amount of energy, a home might need, solar cells are wired together to create solar panels, which are installed in groups to form a solar energy system. A typical residential solar panel with 60 photovoltaic cells combined might produce anywhere from 220 to more than 400 watts of power.

It is pretty simple why solar panel technology keeps dropping in price. There is a law called Swanson’s Law and it describes the observation that the price of solar photovoltaic modules tends to drop 20 percent for every doubling of cumulative shipped volume. As the volume of panels doubles, the price goes down 20 percent. So far, this means that panels have cut their price in half every 10 years.


Therefore they are able to work tirelessly for years naturally. Then as the technology grows more popular, the costs go down. As the technology becomes universal, solar panel cost and innovation will continue to improve. 


When a new technological breakthrough happens in the solar industry, the cost is initially expensive, but they drop rapidly because again this is a natural form of matter that we don’t have to mess with too much. There is no engine, there are no turbines to create the power, just the solar cells doing what they do naturally. 


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