How Do Solar Panels Work?
A solar panel works by letting light in. The light is made of photons. The photons interact with electrons in the panel, cutting them off from atoms. This creates electricity, which powers whatever you need.
Photovoltaic (PV) cells make up every residential solar panel. These are like the red blood cells of your body. A PV cell contains all the chemical reactions needed to make power for your home.
The cells are comprised of two thin silicon-based semiconductors, which can conduct electricity.
- N-type silicon – A phosphorus-infused silicon layer that contains a dense collection of free electrons.
- P-type silicon – A boron-infused silicon layer that has few electrons.
The top of the cell has metal conductor strips. The bottom of the cell has metal backing. There is also an anti-reflective coating on these. The coating ensures that all available light is captured and stored within the cell.
Creating Electricity from Solar Panels
Electricity is the flow of electrons. Without the flow, we would not be able to power our homes.
The two silicon-based layers work together to create an electric field. This is crucial to powering your home.
To create the field, the silicon needs to gain free electrons. The n-type layer is rich in free electrons. This is why it is infused with the silicon, which helps conduct electricity.
When photons from light hit the cell, they interact with the n-type layer. The photons knock the free electrons loose. The electrons then flows into the p-type layer, which attracts the electrons for itself.
Think of the electrical flow like an hourglass. On their own, the n-type layers would hold the “sand”, or electricity. The p-type would be an empty container. Since the n-type has so many electrons, the electrons needs to go somewhere. By stacking the n-type on top of the p-type, the electrons go into the empty container.
The flow of electricity has two functions here. It attracts the p-type and n-type to each other, locking them together in an electrical field.
The n-type still has free electrons bouncing around inside, though. The metal filaments attract the free electrons and channel them into wires.
When the electrons go through the wires, they create a direct current (DC). This is raw electricity that needs to be processed. The DC goes to an inverter box, which converts the energy into an alternating current (AC). Once the AC is ready, you can power your office or home.
How Solar Panels Can Benefit You
Solar electricity is a remarkable way to produce clean and reliable power. Solar energy systems can be installed either a back-up solution to power-grid failure or as a grid-connected system providing you free energy.
Your energy company can credit you for any extra electricity you make. The advantage of a grid-connected system is that you can earn credit with your utility company when the system produces more electricity than you use. You can actually watch your electric meter run backwards!
PV solar energy systems generate electricity from sunlight, with no noise, pollution, or moving parts. Your solar panels don’t stop working unless you disable them. If you are in a sunny area and your panels are always absorbing light, you could rely only on your power. If you make too much power, you can enable it to go out to the public grid.
The electricity produced from the PV solar energy system and the amount of electricity consumed is monitored by the utility company through a process called net metering. If the solar system generates more electricity than is used by the home, the meter spins backwards and the power is sent to the utility company.
When more power is used than generated (like at night, for example), electricity is drawn back from the utility to supply the power required. This is one way that solar energy helps the environment. By converting your home or business to solar energy, you create electricity that the utility does not have to find elsewhere, using fossil fuels, nuclear power, or other non-renewable energy sources. The energy you create that is not immediately used by you becomes an energy “credit” that allows you to take energy back from the utility at a later time without incurring additional costs.
Going green with solar energy lets you enjoy government subsidies for solar energy as well as several government incentives for renewable energy. These can be supplemented with various state grants and rebates.
Batteries are also available to store energy from your home. This can remove you from the electrical grid, eliminating your energy bill.