How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar Panels on Snow With Windmill Under Clear Day Sky It may seem like magic, but the science behind solar power is easy enough to understand. Let's take a quick look at how do solar panels work?

Green energy isn’t just better for the environment. It’s cheaper, too. Green energy like solar power costs you less than burning fossil fuels.

Perhaps the most promising green energy is solar. It uses the abundant energy source that is the sun, requiring only clear weather to operate at its best. But how do solar panels transform sunlight into energy?

It may seem like magic, but the science behind solar power is easy enough for a child to understand. Let’s take a quick look at how solar energy functions at a basic level.

What Are Solar Panels Made of?

To understand how solar panels work, we need to take a look at how they are built.

Solar panels are made up of thin slices of semi-conductive material. In most cases, this is silicon. Silicon is the same material that we use to make the semiconductors that run computers.

As for the reason they have a dark blue or black color, that’s because of the type of silicon they use. Most modern panels use polycrystalline silicon. This silicon type is rare, different from the one we see in computers.

Manufacturers also need to “dope” each piece of silicon with other chemicals. In most cases, they use phosphorus and boron for this task. These chemicals create two distinct electrical charge fields; one is positive, and one is negative.

These are delicate materials that are fragile by nature. In order to admit as much light as possible, they use glass and sometimes clear plastic.

Future Solar Panel Technology

It’s likely that the future solar panels will be more efficient and lighter than the current ones.

The main obstacle for solar panels at the current moment is their relatively low efficiency. Most solar panels are only 20% efficient. Improving that efficiency to 40%, 60%, or higher would change the game.

Current research is working to produce ultra-thin solar cells that are thinner even than a piece of human hair. These ultralight cells weigh less than even a sheet of office paper. You could mount them on a soap bubble and they wouldn’t pop it.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar power works at the molecular level to generate electricity. The tech has been around for over 100 years, since the late 1800s. It’s simply the task of knocking electrons free from atoms and gathering them to make electricity.

Solar panels function by gathering photons from the sun. Photons are a type of electromagnetic energy, light particles that allow the sun to shine and produce heat as it does. Photons are a cousin of radio waves and other electromagnetic energy.

Basically, sunlight-or photons-strikes the panel and knocks electrons free from the phosphorus and boron atoms. With fewer electrons comes a now-positive charge in the electrical field between doped silicon pieces.

The knocked-free electrons are forced out of this junction into metal conductive plates on the sides. These plates transfer the usable power to wires. Voilà, you have a functioning source of electricity.

Solar Installation

How does a contractor install a solar energy system? Although expensive, the process is relatively straightforward.

First, a contractor must decide how to orient the panels. Obviously, the sun does not shine in the same direction all day. Solar panels produce the most energy when they have direct sunlight or at least slightly indirect sunlight.

As a result, most people will probably install panels on one side of the roof. This would be the side of the roof that receives midday and afternoon sunlight, which is the strongest. If they can afford it, it would be ideal to install them on both sides to capture morning sunlight as well.

Most homes can be retrofitted with solar energy with little difficulty. It’s basically just attaching a new power configuration to your home. Roof installation is easy since it only requires installing some struts and wires.

Inverters

Of course, the electricity in this raw state is not the correct type that your house needs. It’s critical to convert it into AC power (alternating current) or DC power (direct current). Otherwise, it would overload your house and shorten your appliances.

The inverter is like a miniature transformer station. That is, those stations you see near residential areas that step down energy from pylons to be usable for homes. The energy produced by the power plant cannot go directly into homes, similar to how raw solar energy can’t power your appliances.

Most inverters are a component of your power panel. They may include smart functionality to manage the power supply between your panels and the utility company. They are also critical if you want to sell back excess power to the grid.

String Inverters

The functionality of string inverters allows people to have multiple series of solar panels in the same building. In most cases, string inverters serve as a commercial solar installation.

Since the output from so many panels could overload the area, string inverters step it down to keep it consistent across the board.

Green Government Incentives

Solar panels are quite expensive to manufacture. A typical solar installation can easily cost several thousands of dollars. This is just the unfortunate reality until manufacturing processes improve.

However, to soften the blow, the US government provides generous tax benefits to switch to solar. At the time of writing, a person can avail of a $7,500 tax credit for installing solar panels. This can easily cover a large chunk of the installation and purchase cost.

There are also state benefits to avail of. Some states, such as Oregon, include their own generous green incentives where funding is available. Those willing to invest in a solar system could knock off a huge amount of the price once they file their taxes.

Go With Solar Today

Solar panels are the way of the future. They provide effectively free energy from the most abundant resource in the solar system.

They use photons in sunlight to knock electrons off other atoms, creating a stream of electricity. They are expensive to install, but government incentives make them viable.

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