The engineers at Precis are always studying the science of solar energy, as the field grows and technology changes. As experts they can explain every aspect of how solar power works.
Most people have some vague idea about what solar panels do –they collect light from the sun and convert it into power that can be used to heat a home or turn on a lamp. If that’s all you know, it will suffice for everyday conversation. But if you have ever been curious about exactly how that energy conversion process works, here is the rest of the story.
What Are Solar Panels Made Of?
Each solar panel is made from thousands of small solar cells, each with two layers. The first layer contains electrons which, when exposed to light, begin jumping to the second layer, which makes the electrons there move. When electrons begin the flow in this manner, it generates electricity.
Okay, So What Are the Solar Cells Made Of?
The basic principles of how solar panels work are more or less the same as how batteries or standard electrical outlets work – all of them use electrons flowing through a circuit.
The basic element that gets the process going is silicon – #14 on the classic Periodic Table of Elements you may remember from high school chemistry class. If that table worked like a top 40 music chart, silicon would have soared into the top 10 by now, given its contributions to solar power and the computer industry.
Silicon is used to form the plates of solar panels because it is the perfect neutral platform for the transmission of electrons. But since silicon alone has no positive or negative charge, it won’t generate electricity. For that to happen other elements have to be introduced.
When phosphorus is combined with silicon, the plate becomes negatively charged. Since a positive charge is also required for energy to flow, boron is added as well. When the plates are incorporated into the panels, with conductive wires attached to them, the only element missing is the one that gives solar energy its name – the sun.
Sunlight contains photons, which bombard the silicon/phosphorus/boron, which generates electricity in each solar cell. One cell can run a calculator. Several thousand can generate enough power to help you end your relationship with the utility company – or at least slash those bills.
Find out more about solar energy for homes.