Solar PV Panels - Capturing the Power

A solar panel consists of many solar cells with semiconductor properties encapsulated within a material to protect it from the environment. These properties enable the cell to capture light, or more specifically, the photons from the sun and convert their energy into useful electricity through a process called the photovoltaic effect.

On either side of the semiconductor is a layer of conducting material which "collects" the electricity produced. The illuminated side of the panel also contains an anti-reflection coating to minimize the losses due to reflection. The majority of solar panels produced worldwide are made from crystalline silicon, which has a theoretical efficiency limit of 33% for converting the Sun's energy into electricity. Many other semiconductor materials and solar cell technologies have been developed that operate at higher efficiencies, but these come with a higher cost to manufacture.

Solar Panel layers

What are Solar Panels Made of?

The main component of any solar panel is a solar cell. Specifically, a number of solar cells are used to build a single solar panel. These cells are the part of the device that convert the sunlight into electricity. Most solar panels are made from crystalline silicon type solar cells. These cells are composed of layers of silicon, phosphorous, and boron (although there are several different types of photovoltaic cells). These cells, once produced, are laid out into a grid pattern. The number of these cells used depends largely on the size of the panel being created, as many different sizing options exist.

Once the cells are laid out, the panel itself is sealed to protect the cells within and covered with a non-reflective glass. This glass protects the solar cells from damage, and is non-reflective to ensure sunlight can still reach the cells. Once sealed, this panel is placed into a rigid metallic frame. This frame is designed to prevent deformation, and includes a drainage hole to prevent water from building up on the panel as a buildup of water could reduce the efficiency of the panel. Additionally, the back of the panel is also sealed to prevent damage.

Solar panels work like this

How Solar Panels Work

Solar panels act as a way to mount a series of solar cells so that their unique properties can be used to generate electricity. Individual cells absorb photons from the Sun, which results in the production of an electric current in the cell through a phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect. An inverter is used to convert the direct current generated by a solar panel into alternating current. Combined, these two technologies create a photovoltaic system. When installing a solar panel, the proper orientation is chosen so that the solar panel faces in a direction that is most suitable for the specific application. This is most often to produce the maximum annual energy, but is not always the case.

How Does Solar Energy Become Electricity?

The way solar panels create electric power is essentially a physical one.

As photons from the sun hit solar cells, they move electrons from their atoms.

Solar panels are designed so that this creates a circuit that then generates electricity through a solar array.

Interestingly, the heat created by the photons is a byproduct of this process, not the main component.

So, while solar panels may attract more heat than, for example, grass, they do not heat the ground beneath them.

Photovoltaic: relating to the production of electric current at the junction of two substances exposed to light.
A photon is a particle of light defined as a discrete bundle (or quantum) of electromagnetic (or light) energy. Photons are always in motion and, in a vacuum (a completely empty space), have a constant speed of light to all observers.


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