How do Solar Panels Work?

How do Solar Panels Work?Admittedly, the average person doesn’t know much about solar energy. For a long time, it was considered a far-off technology with no immediate benefit. That isn’t the case anymore, so it’s good for people to understand how solar works.

Solar cells are also call photovoltaic (PV) cells. A group of these cells (called a “module”) is packaged into a frame that we know as a solar panel. These panels can be grouped in larger arrays depending on the energy needs of the site.

PV cells are made of semiconducting materials like silicone. When the miniscule particles that make up light (called “photons”) strike the cell, a portion of that light is absorbed by the semiconductor, transferring its energy (remember from science class: light is energy).

The energy knocks loose an electron, allow it to flow freely. The electron wanders around a bit, looking for an atom to join, but since there aren’t many spaces, it flows away. Again, if we recall science class, flowing electrons make a current that we can use.

By placing metal contacts above and below the PV cell, we can pull that current away. This is done by creating an electrical imbalance within the cell by using the organization of the silicone. The silicone is bound closely together with small quantities of other substances in between. It gets a bit complicated here, but essentially this positively charges one side and negatively charges the other, so we can direct our free-flowing electrons.

The current is DC charge, but it’s usually pulled through an inverted to make it AC. AC is the type of energy we need to power our washers, dryers, TVs, phones, etc. From the inverter, power flows to the household’s circuitry and on to the region’s electric grid.

It’s possible to keep your house completely off the grid, but it’s usually an unideal solution for many people. By connecting with the grid, you send the energy you made back to the power company who credits your account. During times when you need more energy than you produce (say during a week of poor weather), you simply use up that credit.

Think of it like using the power company as bank: you store your excess energy with them and use it when you need it. If you decide to stay off the grid, you’ll need a batteries to store excess energy to be used when you can’t produce enough.

There are a few more pieces of the puzzle that your system needs, like junction boxes, grounding equipment, overcurrent protection, and a few other accessories. These are basic electrical work equipment. You do, however, need a licensed solar panel technician to install it all.

Hopefully that helps give you a little more insight into how solar panels work.

Written by Joe Chenoweth, President of Smart Roofs


Located in Trumbull, Connecticut, Smart Roofs offers premier solar panel installation and roofing services in Connecticut. Smart Roofs provides quality roofing and solar services to Fairfield County business and homeowners. Their talented roofing and solar teams will design a solution that fits your needs and sticks to your budget. They can help you reduce and even eliminate your monthly electric bill, all while raising the value of your home. Using tax benefits and recently-created SRECs, solar panel installation is more affordable than ever.

Contact them to find out how much you could save and get paid. Receive a free $50 Home Depot or Target gift card with an in-home assessment.

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