How do solar panels work?

Solar panels in a field

Solar panels are springing up everywhere (hurrah!) – you may even have a few on the roof of your house. But, have you ever stopped to think about how your solar panels turn the sun’s rays into electricity for your home?

Time for a quick solar power history lesson…

Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist, was the first person to discover the photovoltaic (PV) effect (i.e. how electricity can be generated from sunlight) back in 1839. It wasn’t until a century later though (1941) that Russell Ohl invented the first ever solar cell and transistor.

How is solar power generated?

Each solar panel is made up of lots of individual solar cells. Each of these cells (often manufactured using polysilicon) is made up of various layers – a bit like a solar sandwich – with different conductive coatings applied to them.

Typically the top layer of silicon is doped with phosphorus to give it a negative charge, whilst the bottom layer contains boron to give it a positive charge. These opposite charges, in turn, create an electric field at the junction between the two (positive and negative) silicon layers.

The solar magic happens within each cell. Here, where photons (or particles of light, to you and me) collide with atoms in the cell, this causes electrons to break free. Once an electron is released, it’s carried out of the silicon junction by the electric field, described above.

From here, the electrons flow from the cell and through an external circuit (via an inverter, which turns the electricity from DC to AC) where they’re then able to get to work powering your home appliances.

Once all their hard appliance-powering work is done, it’s time for the electrons to return back to the solar cells before repeating the whole process again, and again, and again… Pretty smart, hey?

Still struggling to get your head around solar power? We think the animation below helps explain the process really well.

For more information

If you have a question about your solar monitoring set up – or would like to find out (now you know how solar panels work) how to make the most of your generated energy with the help of our Solo PV monitoring range, please pop your comments in the box below!

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