How Do Solar Panels Work?

How Do Solar Panels Work?

The Earth intercepts a lot of solar power: 173,000 terawatts. That’s 10,000 times more power than the planet’s population uses. So is it possible that one day the world could be completely reliant on solar energy? Richard Komp examines how solar panels convert solar energy to electrical energy.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels are made out of photovoltaic cells that convert the sun’s energy into electricity.

Photovoltaic cells are sandwiched between layers of semi-conducting materials such as silicon. Each layer has different electronic properties that energize when hit by photons from sunlight, creating an electric field. This is known as the photoelectric effect – and it’s this that creates the current needed to produce electricity.

Solar panels generate a direct current of electricity. This is then passed through an inverter to convert it into an alternating current, which can be fed into the National Grid or used by the home or business the solar panels are attached to.

What are some of the advantages of solar power?

  • There is 6.14GW of installed solar dotting the rooftops of homes in the UK – that’s double the capacity of Britain’s largest fossil fuel power station.
  • Solar panels can be installed in a wide range of places. From larger, countryside solar farms that can support local biodiversity by providing an undisturbed habitat for bees, butterflies and nesting birds, to rooftop panels in city centers that can help combat fuel poverty.
  • Solar panels don’t create any noise pollution while generating electricity. This means that installations aren’t intrusive – whether they’re in crowded urban locations or quiet rural ones.
  • Solar panels are very safe. They’re mostly made from silicon sheets, and there’s no danger of the photovoltaic cells leaking or emitting any toxins or fumes.


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