Solar panels are a big investment, so it’s important to understand how they work.
A solar panel is made up of solar cells. A vast number of tiny solar cells dispersed across a broad area can work together to provide enough electricity to be useful.
The more light that hits a cell, the more electricity it produces, so spacecraft are usually designed with solar panels that can always see the Sun.
Solar panels on Earth are most often used to heat water in houses or swimming pools and to produce electricity through photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic cells contain materials that release electrons when exposed to light. Electrons are electric currents and electric currents can be used to power things like traffic lights and calculators.
Electricity can also be stored in batteries to be used at night when there is no sunlight available.
The efficiency of solar panels
The efficiency of a solar panel refers to how much of the energy from sunlight it collects and turns into useful electricity. Efficiency is measured as the percentage of energy from sunlight hitting the panel that gets turned into electricity, and efficiencies range from about 5% for a thin-film panel up to about 25% for a crystalline silicon panel.
Solar cells in a solar panel
Solar panels generate energy by enabling photons, or light particles, to push electrons free from atoms. Solar panels are made up of several smaller components known as photovoltaic cells. (The term “photovoltaic” basically refers to the process of converting sunlight directly into electricity.)
A solar panel is made of many solar cells linked together. Many panels (modules) are linked together to form a solar array. The more panels you link together, the more power you generate!
Currently, PV technology is most often used to power small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to systems that power homes and businesses. The PV cells convert the sunlight into electricity, which can then be used to supply renewable energy to your home or business.
Solar panels are also known as solar photovoltaics or “solar PV” for short. They were first developed in 1954, and have since been used extensively in many areas around the world.
How do solar panels work?
Solar panels are made out of silicon crystals that are layered in between two sheets of polymer and sandwiched between two thin layers of aluminum or steel. These layers of silicon contain electrons that move around randomly when they are hit with sun rays.
These moving electrons create an electric field that generates electricity when connected through wires in your home.
Solar panels are mounted to face the Sun
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are typically mounted on the roofs of buildings and can be used to power anything from a single home to a whole village. Commercially manufactured solar PV panels can produce enough electricity for your home or business but are most often used to offset the cost of an existing grid-tied connection.
Solar panels function by absorbing sunlight with photovoltaic cells. It generated DC (direct current). An inverter is used to convert DC to alternating current (AC).
A solar array is made up of many small units that may be used to power anything ranging from small electrical gadgets to huge buildings and cities.
Uses of solar energy
Solar energy can be used to:
- Heat water (solar water heaters)
- Heat rooms (passive solar design)
- Generate electricity (photovoltaics)
Where can you see solar panels?
Solar panels are a familiar sight at the equator, but they can also be found in northern climates if you know where to look. In fact, it is said that, there’s enough solar energy installed in the U.S. to power 18 million homes.