How does solar work?

How Does Solar Work?

Solar, Solar, Everywhere!

But, how the heck does it work?

I admit it, this is a question I’ve had since long before I began working with Energy Alabama. I know that somehow the panels trap the energy from the sun then there’s some wires and stuff that convert that energy to something that is usable, but how?

So, I decided to do a little research and see what I could find out…. then I thought I’d share it with you, because while I’m sure some of you could explain it better than I ever will, others are probably going to appreciate my 5-year old level of comprehension on the subject.

Each solar panel is made up of many smaller units called photo-voltaic cells (because they make energy from the sun), usually made of silicon.

But how?  Says the 5-year old in me.

Ok, so let’s back up and start from the top.

First, we have the sun, which makes an unlimited supply of energy (until the sun eventually blows up but that’s a different story). That energy lands on the ground and buildings and just dissipates, often being wasted. Well, not really wasted, I mean that energy did just warm us up and keep us from staring at a dark and gloomy day. But, when sunlight hits a solar panel, the PV cells inside the solar panel break the sun’s energy up.

Light from the sun hits the solar panel, knocking the electron off the atom, and this somehow creates a flow of electricity. But how? (I really do sound like a 5-year old).

Each cell has a positive layer (made by adding phosphorous) and negative layer (made by adding boron) creating an electric field in the middle. As photons are absorbed in the cell, electrons are released and pushed through that electric field. The electrons then move to the bottom of the cell and exit through connected wires, creating direct current electricity. The solar system inverter then converts that electricity to the same electricity that you would get from the power company.

Most systems are set up to feed the electricity from solar back into the main power grid system. In many cases the owner of the solar sells back the electricity they are making to the power company, purchasing only what they need, in many cases making a profit to help pay for their solar installation.

I hope you have a better understanding of how solar panels work, I know I do!

Want more? Check out this TedEd video

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