How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar Panels

Written by Davey Newlove


Every year we see more and more solar panels installed on rooftops in neighborhoods all over the country. It is undeniable that solar energy is rising in popularity with more people taking advantage of the financial and environmental benefits of  solar. But how do solar panels work exactly? Is it magic? The answer is actually science. Let’s take a closer look at the science that is driving the popularity of renewable energy.


What Is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is any kind of energy that is created by the sun. It is created by the constant nuclear fusion that is occurring deep within the sun. This fusion happens when protons of hydrogen atoms collide at high speeds and fuse together to create helium. This reaction emits a massive amount of energy. According to National Geographic, “in its core, the sun fuses about 620 million metric tons of hydrogen every second.” The result of this reaction is that the sun constantly emits enormous amounts of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). When this energy hits the Earth, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels convert this into electrical energy that we can use to power our homes and businesses.


How Do PV Solar Panels Work?

According to the Department of Energy, “the amount of sunlight that strikes the Earth’s surface in an hour and a half is enough to handle the world’s energy consumption for a whole year.” That is a lot of energy to take advantage of! When this sunlight hits the PV solar panel, electrons are knocked free and get set in motion. The flow of these electrons create energy and solar panels are designed to catch this energy. When this energy is captured by the panels, it is converted into energy that we can use to power our homes. According to EnergySage, “this process is called the photovoltaic effect, and is the foundational chemical and physical process behind the vast majority of solar technology.”


What Are Solar Cells Made Out Of?

Solar cells are mostly made up of silicon. According to the DOE, “silicon is, by far, the most common semiconductor material used in solar cells, representing approximately 95% of the modules sold today.” Silicon trails only oxygen as the most abundant material on Earth.  It is also the most common semiconductor that is used in computer chips. A crystalline silicon cell is made up of silicon atoms that are connected to each other in a way to form a crystalline lattice. This creates an organized structure of crystalline silicon that increases the efficiency of conversion of light into electricity.

There are other forms of solar panels beyond silicon. Thin-film solar cells are made up of light-weight, flexible material. These materials are composed of cadmium telluride, amorphous silicon, copper indium gallium selenide and gallium arsenide. While using materials to make these cells light-weight and flexible, their efficiency is not as good as silicon. There is a separate type of solar cells that uses more carbon based materials called organic solar cells. Perovskite solar cells are another class of of solar cells. According to EnergySage, they are made up of “man-made materials with a unique crystallographic structure that makes them highly efficient at converting photons of light into useable electricity.” The process to make these cells is the same process used to print newspapers.


Other Essential Parts of Solar Panels

Besides solar cells, there are some essential basic components that make solar panels. Glass is used to create a protective casing for the solar cells. The glass also creates an insulation of the solar cell to help protect it from humidity and heat dissipation. There is also an anti-reflective coating that helps to increase sunlight absorption. This allows the cell to have maximum sunlight exposure, which is what increases production of electricity. A single sheet of silicon makes up a type of panel that is called monocrystalline solar panels. Polycrystalline solar panels are panels made up of fragments of silicon. Monocrystalline panels are more expensive, but are also more efficient.


Monocrystalline v Polycristalline Solar Panels

According to EnergySage, a monocrystalline panel “is simply a solar panel made from monocrystalline solar cells or ‘wafers’.” Wafers are made from a single silicon crystal that forms into a cylindrical ingot. These panels have a higher efficiency than a polycrystalline panel and also has a sleeker look to it, making them very popular. This sleek look is normally spotted by the black hue of these panels. A monocrystalline panel is made up of one cell which allows the electrons to have more room to move to create more electricity. With a higher amount of electricity being produced by a single panel, less panels have to go on a roof to generate the power that a customer needs. One of the downsides to this is that these panels also tend to be more expensive than polycrystalline panels.

Similarly, polycrystalline panels are also made from silicon. Polycrystalline panels are often referred to as multi-crystalline. This is due to the fact that they are made up of many small fragments of silicon that are melted together. These small fragments make up the wafers of the panel. Due to having more pieces combined together, the electrons have less freedom to move around the panel. Because of this, the efficiency of the polycrystalline panel is decreased. This means that you will have to have more of these panels on your roof to meet the demand for energy produced. These panels are easier for manufacturers to produce, which means that they are cheaper than monocrystalline panels. These panels can be more easily identified by their blue hue.


What Kind Of Solar Panels Does JSunPV Install?

Here at JSunPV we like to install the Alpha Pure panels made by REC. They are black panels that have a resiliency to snow, wind, hail and fire. Alpha Pure panels come with a higher number of wires than normal panels which greatly increases the flow of electrical current. These panels come with a 25 year warranty on product and performance. The expected output (performance) of these panels at the end of the warranty is a 92% production level. They also come with a 25 year warranty on labor through JSunPV as we are a certified REC installer. REC manufactures their solar panels in an environmentally friendly way which drastically helps reduce their carbon footprint.

The process of harnessing sunlight and converting it to electricity for your home is a complex process. If you are ready to convert to a clean energy solution, contact JSunPV today to get started on your project today!