How Solar Panels Actually Work

The benefits of solar energy are many. Installing a solar system reduces your energy bill and the amount of pollution and greenhouse gases that will be released into the atmosphere generating electricity for your home and business. This reduces your carbon footprint.

But then, you’ve probably heard that before. What is less talked about, however, is exactly how solar systems work. After all, we are talking about installing a system of solar panels on your roof that are in turn hooked into you power supply and the power grid.

This can lead to some misconceptions, such as solar panels require complicated machinery or can overheat.

The truth is that solar panels are a simple and passive way of collecting energy from the sun. Though the science behind how they generate electricity is complicated, they require little or no mechanics to turn light in to electricity.

Solar panels are technically photovoltaic cells which act as a photosensitive diode that instantaneously converts light – but not heat – into electricity. All that means is that some materials exhibit a property known as the photoelectric effect that causes them to absorb photons of light and release electrons. When these free electrons are captured, an electric current results that can be used as electricity.

Each of these cells has layers. A top, phosphorus-diffused silicon layer carries free electrons – un-anchored particles with negative charges. A thicker, bottom layer contains holes, or absences of electrons, that can also can move freely. The result is that the panel has been designed with an electronic imbalance between the two layers.
A number of solar cells electrically connected to each other and mounted in a support structure or frame is called a photovoltaic module.

When the sun hits the panels, photons bombard and penetrate the cells. They activate electrons, knocking them loose in both silicon layers. Some electrons in the bottom layer sling-shot to the top of the cell. These electrons flow into metal contacts as electricity, moving into a circuit throughout the module. Electrons flow back into the cell through a solid contact layer at the bottom, creating a closed loop or circuit.

It’s that circuit that generates current and powers your home or business.

Electric current leaving a module passes through a wire conduit leading to an inverter. This small device inverts the direct current from the panels into alternating current. The appliances and electronic devices in your home operate on AC.

From the inverter, the solar-generated power feeds into circuitry of a household, business or power plant and onto the region’s electrical grid.

A solar system can also be designed to form a self-contained circuit without connecting to the grid. The off-grid system, however, requires batteries to store power for times, such as night, when modules do not capture enough light energy from the sun.

Ok, it still may seem a little complicated, but the important thing to note is that solar energy systems have no moving parts – the one exception is motorized panels that automatically adjust their position to get maximum sun exposure – make no noise and don’t require any fuel. The sun simply hits the cells and the electrons do their thing. The current passes through the inverter and then into your home and onto the grid.

For such a complicated reaction, solar energy is actually pretty simple to use. And that makes is an easy choice.

Interested in solar panels for your businesses? TerraSol Energies, a family-run business that has been serving the tri-state area (PA, NJ, DE) since 2009, can help. We are one of the area’s most knowledgeable teams of solar specialists. Call us at 888.873.9995. Or contact us via our website.