Jun 26, 2020

How Exactly Do Solar Panels Work?

You may remember our brief explanation about how solar panels work in our blog Learning Solar Energy 101: The Basics of Solar Energy & Market Size. Now we’re circling back this week to explain how they work, both physically and in your energy consumption, more in-depth. As previously discussed, the most common solar panels create their energy by using photovoltaic energy (PV), and therefore they’re often referred to as PV cells. 

A Brief History

Beginning in 1839, French scientist Edmond Becquerel paved the way when he discovered that certain materials would give off sparks of electricity when struck with sunlight. His discovery led researchers to discover later on in the 1950s that this phenomenon, called the photoelectric effect, could be harnessed, and thus the first photovoltaic (PV) cells were made, the first silicon solar cells capable of converting the sun’s energy into electricity. 

What Are Solar Panels Made Of? 

Although there are different types of PV solar panels, such as monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film, they all have a uniform, basic structure to how they work. These cells have two layers of semiconductor materials, usually made of silicon crystals, and then impurities such as boron and phosphorus. These PV cells have to have an impurity material added in order to work. This is because silicon on its own is not a great electricity conductor and cannot create an electric current on its own. The process of adding an impurity to the silicon is referred to as “doping” and by doing this the cells can then create a current of electricity to flow. 

Solar Panels Harnessing & Converting Sunlight

A no brainer, the first step in the process of converting sunlight to electricity is harnessing the sun’s energy. In order to convert solar energy to useful electricity, PV cells take the sunlight energy, (also known as photons) and then produce a current of electricity. This is done when sunlight enters the cell and positive and negative electrons are freed from the silicon, creating a flow of electricity that will now power your home.

Solar Energy And The Power Grid

If you have solar panels installed, then they’re obviously your main source of electricity. However, there can be times when sometimes you generate too little or too much electricity from your solar panels. 

So what transpires when this happens? Well, you’ll still be connected to a power grid even with solar panels, so you can always pull from that if you don’t have enough electricity that was generated from the solar panels, especially if you’re using a lot of electricity at night. 

But what about if you produce more than you need? It’s simple, any excess solar power you have gets sent to the power grid for electric companies to use. When this happens you get credited by electric companies, a process called net metering – when your local utility company agrees to give you energy credits for any surplus solar power you produce and send to the power grid. 

The best part about producing a surplus of electricity for long periods of time, and therefore contributing to the power grid often? You begin to accrue enough energy credits that utility companies will end up paying you for your power production and contribution. Don’t forget that in order for this to work, you need a net meter device, and of course a net metering agreement. Going solar is awesome, isn’t it? 

That’s it, folks! Convinced that you’re ready to go solar? Contact us today about setting up your own solar power system. 

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