Are you considering solar panels for your home, but are curious on how they work? This article will give you a quick overview of how solar panels conduct electricity. This will include what solar panels are made of, how they are put together, and why it creates electricity.
Solar panels are made up a photovoltaic cells. A photovoltaic cell is a semi-conductor and is usually made up of the element silicon. A semi-conductor is a material that will only conduct electricity after there has been energy put into the system. You can think of this like a golf ball. A golf ball will happily sit in the same spot, until you give it some energy like by hitting it with a golf club. With that added energy the golf ball will fly through the air.
Going back to our solar panel, when light hits our silicon cell, it will give the silicon atoms enough energy for one of the electrons to break free of the silicon atom. But that’s only the beginning of the process.
Once the electron is free, it’s looks for some place it can go so it’ll be stable again, and without any further influence, it’ll just find a hole from another electron that was knocked free and settle down there. This is a random process and by itself will not create electricity.
To actually create a flow of electricity, we need to have an electric field, and to do that, we use a positive layer of silicon right next to a negative layer of silicon.
Before I get ahead of myself, to create those positive and negative layers of silicon, you will need to add something to the silicon. Silicon by itself is electrically neutral, but by simply adding phosphorous to one sheet, and boron to the other, it will give each sheet of silicon a negative and a positive overall charge (respectively).
Now that we’ve got our positive and negative layers, right where the two layers meet there will be an electric field that’s created. This field will give the free electrons an overall direction to follow in the cell (i.e. towards the positive), rather than moving around randomly.
If you connect the positive and negative sheets of silicon into an electric circuit, electrons will flow through the circuit, and electricity is created!
Now each solar cell doesn’t create very much electricity, but if you wire a bunch of solar cells together, you can make a bunch of energy. It’s not uncommon for people to power their entire house through solar energy.