Basics explained: How do solar panels work?

Heating Trends, last updated on November 14, 2022

You've seen solar panels before, but have you ever wondered how exactly is the sun's energy converted into electricity ready to be used in a home? Here we cover the basics of this trendy, efficient and environmentally friendly system.

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Basics explained: How do solar panels work?

What is solar energy?

The sun gives off heat as well as light, and this heat can be converted into energy. This energy is known as solar energy. Solar energy can be used to heat water or homes, power vehicles, and even run machines.

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Solar panels

Solar panels are a type of renewable energy technology that converts the sun's energy into electricity. Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are the devices that actually convert sunlight into electricity. When sunlight hits a PV cell, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms. Several interconnected groups of solar cells form a solar, photovoltaic or PV panel.

Photovoltaic power plants differ from other types of solar power plants because they use the photoeffect directly, without the need for other processes or devices. The photoeffect or photoelectric effect is a physical phenomenon in which, due to the action of electromagnetic radiation of sufficiently short wavelength, electrons are ejected from the illuminated material. Such electrons are called photoelectrons.

For example, solar thermal power plants use some kind of liquid, such as water or brine, to transfer heat. PV panels do not concentrate energy, they simply convert photons into electricity which is then transmitted elsewhere.

The way the photovoltaic (FN) system works is based on the photovoltaic effect, which was first observed by Heinrich Herz in 1887. He noticed that ultraviolet light made it easier to get a spark between live electrodes. Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921 for explaining the photovoltaic effect.

Photovoltaic panels differ based on the structure of the material from which they are made. They are divided into panels of organic and inorganic origin, while the latter are divided into silicon-based panels and others. PV panels made on the basis of silicon, as mentioned, are most often in use. They can be monocrystalline or polycrystalline, depending on the crystal structure. Silicon is the second most abundant chemical element in the Earth's crust, after oxygen. We can find it in almost unlimited quantities in all corners of the world. The problem of obtaining silicon for solar power plants is not in its distribution, but in its natural state.

In nature, soilicon it is most often found bound with other elements in compounds. A process is needed to separate pure silicon from other elements, which has the biggest impact on its price. Until recently, polycrystalline panels dominated the market due to their significantly lower price compared to monocrystalline panels. With the advancement of technology, the price of monocrystalline panels has approached the price of polycrystalline panels. This increased their sales since they are more efficient in the production of electricity and thus more profitable in the long run. Also, monocrystalline panels have already taken over a large part of the market. In 2020, more than 80% of the global production of solar power plants will be from monocrystalline panels.

What is a solar panel inverter?

When solar panels produce electricity, they do so as direct current, or DC. However, most electrical appliances use alternating current, or AC. Inverters are devices that convert DC to AC. Inverters also protect solar panels.

Efficient and environmentally-friendly

Solar panels are a great way to generate electricity and heat, and they are becoming more and more popular as a source of renewable energy. Solar panels work by converting sunlight into electrical energy, which can then be used to power appliances or to heat water. Solar panels are an environmentally-friendly and efficient way to generate power, and they are becoming increasingly affordable as technology improves.