How do solar panels work?

If you’re wondering how those big, black solar panels on people’s roofs work, you’re not alone. Solar panels seem like magical devices that can turn sunlight into electricity. But the science behind solar panels is actually pretty simple. Here’s a quick explanation of how solar panels work and why they’re such an important part of the fight against climate change.


The basics of how a solar panel works

You’re likely most familiar with PV, which is utilized in solar panels. When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.

The science behind electricity generation through solar panels

Solar PV panels are a combination of tiny photovoltaic cells which can transform sunlight into electricity. Silicon is the most commonly used semi-conductive material to craft these cells, as it gives an electric field through maintaining electrical imbalance while still conducting electricity.

When the sun’s rays reach the semiconductor of a solar PV cell, photons are absorbed and electrons are set free. This action is intentionally designed by engineering two charged semiconductors — negative and positive — in close proximity to each other, creating an electric field. This electric field propels the electrons in a predetermined direction- towards metal plates that line each cell, creating an energy current. The magnitude of this current determines how much electricity is generated by individual cells. Once these loose electrons make contact with the metal plates, they are then guided into wires, allowing them to circulate through like any other source of electric generation.

How is the energy generated used for a home?

Solar energy generated by photovoltaic cells in solar panels can be used to power homes in several ways. One option is to convert the electricity directly into usable AC power, and then use this to run appliances and lights throughout the house. Alternatively, some homes use battery banks for storing energy generated from the sun during times of peak production. This stored energy can then be utilized when necessary, such as when the sun isn’t out or when more electricity is needed than what the panels are able to produce at a given time. Solar energy has become increasingly popular due to its cost-effectiveness and clean production, making it an attractive renewable energy source for many households around the world.

Do solar panels also work when it's cloudy?

Yes, solar panels are still able to generate electricity even when it is cloudy outside. Photovoltaic cells in solar panels use the light from the sun to produce an electric charge, not just its heat. That’s why they can still work during cloudy days or at night, although the amount of energy produced is reduced significantly. To optimize energy production, it’s best to install enough panels so that some electricity can be generated even on overcast days. Many homeowners have seen notable returns on investment with solar panel installations, proving that it’s possible to take advantage of renewable energy sources even in more uncertain weather conditions.

Do solar panels work at night?

One simple answer: no. As previously stated, solar panels need light to generate energy; they prefer direct sunlight but can also harness electricity from other sources such as street lights and even the moonlight. However, these amounts of energy produced are minimal in comparison. Thusly, at night when there is a lack of sufficient lighting present, the solar panels go into sleep mode meaning that they cease production until more adequate light appears again during the daybreak hours.