A Comprehensive Guide to How Solar Panels Work

Jessica PirroFebruary 5, 2020 2695 1

When you make any sort of major investment you are going to want to know how it works. The same goes for solar power systems when investing in solar panels, most homeowners are going to want to know how solar panels work.

How Solar Panels Work

The way the photovoltaic cells work (the photovoltaic effect) in 1839 by Edmond Becquerel. Becquerel discovered certain materials would emit solar electricity after being struck with sunlight. Years later, researchers rediscovered this and it was named the photovoltaic effect. In the late 1800s, the very first photovoltaic cells were made of selenium. Then, scientists at Bell Labs started to revisit the technology in the 1950s. At this time, the Scientists began using silicon to make the photovoltaic cells. These new photovoltaic cells can convert 4% of the sun’s energy directly into solar electricity.

How the Photovoltaic Effect Works

- The solar energy is absorbed by the photovoltaic cells.

- The sunbeams interact with the photovoltaic cells, causing the electrons to begin moving, creating an electrical flow.

- The wires will then capture and then send this direct current (DC) solar electricity to a solar power inverter, which will then convert the DC solar electricity into usable alternating current (AC) solar electricity.

A Deep Dive: How Exactly Do Solar Panels Work?

When it comes to investing in solar panels, most homeowners are going to want to know exactly how the solar panels will work. Well, to understand how the solar panels work, you are going to need to know how the photovoltaic cells work. The most vital part of the photovoltaic cells is going to be the two layers of the semiconductor material, commonly made up of silicon crystals. The silicon crystals alone aren’t going to be a very good generator of solar electricity. But if you intentionally add impurities, which is called doping, it sets the stage for creating an electrical current.

The last layer of the photovoltaic cells is usually going to be doped with boron, which will then bonds with the silicon to facilitate a positive charge (P), and the top layer is going to be doped with phosphor, which then bonds to the silicon to create a negative charge (N).

When the sunlight hits the photovoltaic cells, the solar energy (coming from the sunlight) knocks the electrons loose in both layers. Because both layers have had opposite charges, the electrons will want to flow from the layer that has a negative charge, to the layer that has a positive charge. However, the electric field that is at the P-N junction is going to stop this from happening.

The external circuit is going to provide the required path for the n-type layer to the p-type layer. These electrons that are moving through the circuit (usually the wires that are running along the top of the n-type layer) give the solar panel installations owner solar electricity.

A lot of solar power systems are going to be based on the individual photovoltaic cells, normally a few inches on each side. By itself, each photovoltaic cell will generate a little bit of solar power, which is why they are grouped as solar panels. Then the solar panels will either be used individually or grouped as a solar panel installation.

Three Basic Types of Photovoltaic Cells:

- Single-Crystal Cells are made in long cylinders and then sliced into thin wafers. This process is energy-intensive and uses more materials, it produces the highest-efficiency of solar energy for photovoltaic cells, meaning that they can convert the most incoming sunlight into solar electricity. The solar panels that are made from single-crystal photovoltaic cells have an efficiency of solar energy of up to 23 percent in some laboratory tests. Single-crystal accounts for a little over one-third of the global market for photovoltaic cells.

- Polycrystalline photovoltaic cells are made from molten silicon that is cast into ingots that are then sliced into squares. While production costs are lower, the efficiency of solar energy in these photovoltaic cells is lower as well, with the top module efficiency of solar energy being close to 20 percent. Polycrystalline photovoltaic cells make up around half of the global photovoltaic cells market.

- Thin Film photovoltaic cells involve spraying or depositing materials, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, or others, onto glass or metal surfaces in thin films, making the whole module at one time instead of assembling individual photovoltaic cells. This approach results in lower efficiency of solar energy, but it can be a lower cost as well. Thin-film cells are around ten percent of the global market for photovoltaic cells.

Additional Parts of Solar Panels

Aside from the photovoltaic cells being a key part of the solar panels, the typical solar panels include a glass casing that is going to offer durability and protection for the photovoltaic cells. Under the glass exterior, the solar panels have a layer for insulation and a protective back sheet, that is going to protect against the heat dissipation and the humidity inside the solar panels. The insulation is quite important because the increase in temperature is going to lead to a decrease in the efficiency of solar energy, resulting in lower performance for the solar panels.

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