How Do Solar Panels Work?
Similar to most other energy sources, solar power performance is dependent on three main processes; collection, conversion, and storage.
The more sunlight a solar panel receives; the more power it is able to produce. Therefore, integrated solar systems are often installed in places that receive direct sunlight for the majority of the day, such as open fields or rooftops with no nearby trees or other obstructions.
Solar panels are comprised of photovoltaic cells that react to UV rays and transform it into electricity. Each cell is made up of conduction materials from silicon, which is highly reactive to solar energy. Due to the gases and elements of the sun being highly reactive, the protons from these materials are constantly moving at a rapid pace from the sun to Earth. When these protons come in contact with certain elements on Earth, such as silicon, there is a chemical reaction. The protons from the sun’s rays cause the electrons to escape from the atoms that make up silicon, which generates an electric current.
The energy of these moving atoms can be converted into a clean power source via wires threaded throughout the solar panel system. These wires convert the energy from the moving electrons of the silicon into electricity that can be used to power just about anything.
Solar panels themselves do not store energy; electricity is merely created within the cells and then transported through conductors to an electric device, such as a lightbulb. However, solar panel systems can be hooked up to special batteries which are able to store this energy for later use.
Since solar panels can only create energy when they are in contact with UV rays, the panels are not generating power during the night. This is why power storage units are often used in conjunction with a solar panel system. These batteries can store extra electricity that is produced on sunny days so that it can either be used at a later time or sold back to the power company.
Solar panels are designed and made up of six main components.
Usually made of aluminum, the frame provides structural rigidity and protects the unit from outside elements.
Protects the top of the panel and allows it to receive optimal sunlight.
Binds the components of the panel together and protects it from dirt, water, or anything else from damaging the cells.
Engines that convert sunlight into electricity.
Back part of the unit that protects against water and dirt.
Transfers the electricity produced by the unit.
At the very bottom of the panel are the junction and connector wires. These are responsible for transmitting the solar energy produced by the panel to a powered device or battery.
Above these wires are the solar cells, which are comprised of purified silicon. In order to increase the number of electrons within these silicon cells, solar panel manufacturers may add additional elements to a cell, such as phosphorus and boron to balance out the positive and negative charges for a better electric output.
There are several pieces of specially formulated glass between the cells and the surface of the solar panel. These prevent impurities, such as water or dirt, from reaching the cells. Glass is also highly reflective and excellent for conducting lots of UV rays directly into the solar cells.
The process of converting the sun’s rays into usable solar energy can seem like a complicated solution, but the overall concept is quite simple. The sun provides an unlimited and renewable energy source, that when combined with the right elements, can be used to power our world.
Have More Questions? Contact Brian Ondyak, P.E., CEM, LEED AP, our National Solar Director for more information about how solar panels work.
National Solar Developer