When the sun shines on a solar panel, it is hitting the panel with particles of light called “photons.” The panels allow the photons to knock electrons from from atoms and in turn, generate a flow of electricity.

  • Atoms are the basic building blocks of matter consisting of protons (a positive electrical charge), neutrons (no electrical charge), and electrons (a negative electrical charge)

So how exactly does a solar panel work?

  • Solar panels comprise of many, smaller units called photovoltaic cells
    • Photovoltaic means they convert sunlight into energy
  • Each photovoltaic cell is basically a sandwich made up of two slices of semiconducting material
    • Usually silicon, the same material used in microelectronics
  • In order to work, photovoltaic cells need to establish an electric field (similar to a magnetic field).
  • To create the electric field, one half of the “sandwich” must have a negative charge and the other a positive one.
  • Phosphorous is seeded into the top layer of silicon; adding extra electrons and creating a negative  charge.
  • Boron is added to the bottom silicon layer, resulting in fewer electrons and creating a positive charge.
  • Between the negative and positive charges, an electric field is formed.
  • When sunlight hits the solar panel, the photons knock the electrons free and the electric field pushes the electron out.
  • Metal conductive plates on the sides of the cell collect the electrons and transfer them into wires.
  • Once transferred into wires, the electrons work like any other source of electricity.