Solar 101: What Are Solar Panels?

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Solar 101: What Are Solar Panels?

Solar panels are a collection of solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells, designed to turn the sun’s energy into electricity. It is a clean process of gathering solar energy and converting it into usable electricity. Panels can come in different designs, shapes, and sizes. With the different types of constructions of solar panels, it allows us to use them in a multitude of ways.

How Do Solar Panels work?

As a promising alternative energy source for decades, solar panels crown rooftops and roadside signs, and help keep street lights or even spacecraft powered. But how do solar panels work?

Solar panel works by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. Solar panels comprise many, smaller units called photovoltaic cells. (Photovoltaic simply means they convert sunlight into electricity.) Many cells are connected together makes up a solar panel.

Each photovoltaic cell is basically a sandwich made up of two slices of semi-conducting material. Usually silicon – the same stuff used in microelectronics. To make it work, photovoltaic cells need to establish an electric field. It occurs due to opposite poles, remember that an electric field occurs when opposite charges are separated. To be able to get this field, manufacturers “dope” silicon with other materials, giving each slice of the sandwich a positive or negative electrical charge.

Specifically, they seed phosphorus into the top layer of silicon, which adds extra electrons, with a negative charge, to that layer. Meanwhile, the bottom layer gets a dose of boron, which results in fewer electrons, or a positive charge. This all adds up to an electric field at the junction between the silicon layers. Then, when a photon of sunlight knocks an electron free, the electric field will push that electron out of the silicon junction.

A couple of other components of the cell turn these electrons into usable power. Metal conductive plates on the sides of the cell collect the electrons and transfer them to wires. At that point, the electrons can flow like any other source of electricity.

Stated simply: The sun causes loose electrons in silicon to break away from the atoms creating a current. That current is called electricity, and the charge that is created is what we can use to power anything from street lights to our cars. We store this charge in batteries and we then use the energy to help power our homes.


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