How Do Solar Panels Work? Behind the Technology.

Behind the Technology: How Do Solar Panels Work?

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solar panels work

Everyone has been there. You open up your electric bill and it’s even higher. How can electricity be so expensive? Maybe you could cut back on your power usage. Or maybe there’s a way you can generate your own electricity.

Solar panels work by converting light from the sun into electricity that can power your home or business.  They are especially useful in places that receive a lot of sunlight like California.

Keep reading to learn how solar panels work and how solar panels save money on your power bill.

What Is a Photovoltaic Cell?

Photovoltaic cells are the main component of most solar panels. They are the physical mechanism that actually converts light into electricity. The term photovoltaic comes from the Greek photo meaning light and the physicist Alessandro Volta.

Most photovoltaic cells are made of some kind of semiconductor material. Normally, some material is either a conductor whose electrons can move around or an insulator whose electrons are stuck in place within the material.

However, some materials can be manufactured to have a conductivity between that of conductors and insulators. This means electrons can move around within the material, but they are mostly stuck in place.

Because of this unique property, semiconductors are used in industrial settings. Things like computers and cell phones would not be as cheap or easy to produce without the existence of semiconductors.

Most semiconductors are made of silicon because it is a common resource. Silicon can be treated, or doped, with other elements to give it semiconductor properties.

Doped with phosphorous, silicon gains electrons, giving it a negative charge. Conversely, doped with boron, silicon loses electrons, giving it a positive charge.

How Does the Sun Produce Energy?

Before semiconductors can convert light from the sun into energy we can use, the sun has to produce and give off that light. The process by which the sun does this is called nuclear fusion.

Fusion happens when two particles or groups of particles collide at very high temperatures and pressures. This can not occur naturally anywhere on the Earth, but the sun’s core meets these conditions.

Although nuclear fusion can refer to a few different processes, the most common and most well known is the fusion of hydrogen into helium. This is called the proton-proton chain reaction.

First, two helium nuclei, also called protons, collide with each other to form a deuterium nucleus. This then collides with another proton to form an isotope of helium with two protons and a neutron.

Then, two of these helium isotopes collide to form a normal helium nucleus and two extra protons. These extra protons go on to start the process all over again, making this a chain reaction.

Some of the steps in this chain reaction also release energy in the form of light. This light from the sun is what we see on the Earth and use to generate electricity.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

The science behind solar panels is essentially that of semiconductors. Most solar panels consist of two thin layers of silicon that have been doped in different ways. The top layer has more phosphorous while the bottom has more boron.

This creates layers of opposite charge which produces an electric field between the layers. Any loose electrons feel the electric field and move in the direction of the field.

When sunlight hits a solar panel, the energy from the light knocks off some electrons from their atoms. The electric field then guides these electrons to one place where they become the electricity we can use.

Each individual photovoltaic cell only produces a small number of electrons. However, if you connect a lot together in series, you can get enough current to power your home or business. This is one of the main reasons solar panels work. 

When electrons flow like this, they are all going in the same direction. This is called direct current (DC). However, your home or business is wired to use alternating current (AC). This means solar panel systems need a power inverter to convert the current.

How Can Solar Panels Benefit You?

There are several benefits of solar panels. One of the most significant is that it can save you money. Even though the initial in solar panels may be high, they usually end up paying for themselves.

Most power companies use something called net metering. In fact, it is this idea that makes California a leader in solar energy. The basic idea is that the power company uses a meter to keep track of how much electricity you use.

As you use electricity, the numbers on your meter go up and you have to pay more. However, with solar panels, you can generate some of your own electricity.

If you live in an area with lots of sunlight, such as California, your meter can stay the same or even go down. This would mean you added electricity to the grid. Most power companies give credits for doing this.

In addition, the federal government has programs in place to give tax credits to people who install solar panels on their homes or businesses.

To learn more about solar panel rebates and other important questions like whether solar panels work when it is cloudy or raining, check out these frequently asked questions.

Next Steps

Solar panels work by harnessing the energy of the sun to power our homes and businesses. There are many benefits to using solar power including saving money on your electric bill.

If you are interested in switching to solar power for your home or business in California, feel free to contact us for more information on how we can help!

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