Many of us are aware of the fact that solar photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into a usable form of electricity. However, a lot of us don’t know the science behind this transformation. In this blog, we will delve deep into the intricate science of solar energy.
While it may sound complicated, the key to understanding lies in the photovoltaic effect, which refers to the emission of electrons from a material when exposed to light.
So, without further ado, let’s answer the question, “how do solar panels work?”
How Do Solar Panels Work?
In simple words, a solar panel generates electricity by harnessing the energy of sunlight via the photovoltaic effect. This process involves particles of light, or photons, striking and dislodging electrons from atoms, causing them to flow. The resulting flow of electrons is known as electricity, and solar panels are built in a way to capture and convert it into usable electric current. The photovoltaic effect is the cornerstone physical and chemical process behind most of the solar technology available today.
Understanding How the Photovoltaic Effect Works
The process of producing electricity with solar panels all boils down to the photovoltaic effect. This effect can usually be considered to be a feature of specific materials, i.e., semiconductors, that enable them to produce an electric current when they are exposed to sunlight.
The photovoltaic effect works in the following steps:
Step 1: The solar cells absorb sunlight, causing the electrons within the cells to become energized and start moving.
Step 2: The electrons move away from the intersection between the cell layers, generating an electrical current.
Step 3: Metal wires and plates capture the flow of electrons and produce electricity.
The process of producing solar electricity begins with solar cells. These are the separate pieces that ultimately make up a bigger solar panel. Solar cells are typically made from silicon, a nonmetal semiconductor that can capture and transform the sun’s rays into electricity. There are some different kinds of semiconductors usually used in solar cells. Nevertheless, silicon is the most common among them and is used in 95 percent of the solar cells manufactured today.
There are two silicon layers used in photovoltaic cells, and both of them are specially treated, or “doped,” to produce an electric field at the junction between them. The resulting electric field forces the loose electrons to flow through the solar cells and out of the silicon junction, creating an electrical current. Typically, boron is used as a negative doping agent, and phosphorus is used as a positive doping agent to create negative and positive sides of a photovoltaic cell.
The metal plates on the sides of every solar cell collect the electrons forced out by the electric field and transfer them to connecting wires. At this stage, the electrons move in the form of electricity through the wires to a solar inverter which then supplies energy throughout your home.
Alternatives to Silicon Solar Cells
As we mentioned earlier, silicon is the most commonly used semiconductor used globally in solar panels. However, there are some alternatives used in the latest solar products across the industry. These include:
Thin-Film Solar Cells: These solar cells are a category of solar cells manufactured with lightweight and flexible materials. Essentially there are four chemical types of thin-film solar cells: amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, gallium arsenide, and copper indium gallium selenide. The name “thin film” comes from the fact that the layers for absorbing light in such cells are 350 times smaller compared to silicon cells.
Organic Solar Cells: These are a kind of thin-film solar cell that uses carbon-based materials as a semiconductor. These kinds of organic photovoltaics are also sometimes known as “polymer solar cells” or “plastic solar cells” and are created by creating a mixture of organic compounds and ink and applying it over thin plastics.
Perovskite Solar Cells: The third category of thin-film cells are made with perovskites which is a category of man-made substances with a distinct crystallographic structure. This structure makes perovskite solar cells extremely efficient at transforming the sun’s rays into electricity.
How Do Solar Panels Power Your House?
Producing an electric current is the first step of a solar panel’s operation. However, the process does not end there. Here is how solar energy systems create usable electricity to power your house.
Step 1: Photovoltaic Cells Absorb the Energy from the Sun and Transform It to Direct Current (DC) Electricity
As discussed earlier, the solar cells making up every solar panel do the majority of the work when it comes to producing electricity. Through the photovoltaic effect, your solar panels generate an electric current.
Step 2: A Solar Inverter Converts DC Electricity to AC Electricity
At this point, you have efficiently-working solar panels that convert sunlight into DC electricity. However, most appliances in our homes do not use DC electricity and require AC electricity to run. Thus, an inverter is used to convert the DC electricity into AC electricity. In recent solar systems, the inverters can either be configured as a single inverter for the whole system or as individual microinverters attached behind the solar panels.
Step 3: The AC Electricity Powers Your Home Appliances
After the solar energy has been converted to AC electricity, it flows through your electrical panel and gets distributed within your house to run your electrical appliances. It works very much like the electric energy generated by an electric company. This means you don’t have to change anything in your home. If you are connected to the grid supply, you can automatically use the extra electricity generated to make up for any solar shortages from the grid.
How to Increase the Efficiency of Your Solar Panels?
By now, you will have a clear idea of how solar panels work. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that solar panels don’t work equally under all conditions. However, the good news is that you can take some steps to increase the output and efficiency of your solar panels.
Let’s take a look at some of these ways.
1. Purchase an Efficient Solar Panel Model
Keep in mind that a solar panel cannot convert all the solar energy it gets into usable electricity. Thus, you need to pay attention to the panel’s efficiency, which is essentially the percentage of energy hitting the solar panels that get converted into electricity.
Solar energy technology has made significant improvements in the past five years, and the average efficiency of a solar panel has gone up to around 20 percent. Nevertheless, not all solar panels are built the same, and a model’s structure and material impact its efficiency. At BLUETTI, we have a range of portable solar panels with an efficiency rating of 23.4 percent.
2. Place Your Panels in Sunlight
Solar panels work best in direct sunlight. If the sun’s rays are getting blocked out by a building or a tree, your system’s output could fall significantly. As per Energy Sage, shade is extremely detrimental for solar panels using a “string” type of inverter that restricts the system’s output to the intensity of the weakest solar panel. Even if a small part of your solar array is placed in the shade, the entire system’s output will reduce.
If you have roof-mounted panels, you might have to remove or trim the trees around your solar panels. In case this is not possible, you can use a power optimizer or microinverter that is going to maximize output from the unshaded areas of the system.
To overcome this problem altogether, you can simply invest in portable solar panels. With these panels, it will be easy and hassle-free for you to place them in direct sunlight.
3. Clean the Solar Panels Regularly
As solar panels do not have any moving parts, they need minimal maintenance. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to clean your panels frequently as dirt and dust can accumulate on the surface, lowering their efficiency.
The number of times you need to clean your solar panels depends on various factors, such as how often it rains and the costs of cleaning them.
In some areas, dirt and dust might only cause a 5 percent decline in output. Nevertheless, if they get extremely dirty – probably in an area that doesn’t receive regular rainfall – the decline in output can be higher than 20 percent. Thus, cleaning your solar panels once every year is a good idea.
4. Track the Output of Your Solar Panels
Some people install solar panels, and if they are satisfied with the initial output levels, they completely forget about them. This is a problem because if you do not track the amount of energy produced by your solar system, you will not know when its efficiency has declined.
One way to monitor your energy generation levels is by connecting your solar panels to energy management software. This way, you can track the output over time and check for any unusual decreases.
5. Correctly Position Your Solar Panels
Solar panels generate their maximum output when they are directly facing the sun. According to Solar Reviews, solar panels facing due south are going to get the highest level of direct sunlight throughout the day. Thus, the potential output will also be the highest. On the other hand, a west orientation generates more power in the early evening and afternoon.
6. Use a Solar Concentrator
A solar concentrator concentrates light that has been absorbed by the sun. It concentrates light that falls onto bigger areas into smaller ones, and large mirrors can even increase this. Because of this, your solar panels are going to have higher levels of efficiency, generating more electricity and resulting in lower electricity bills.
Solar panels allow you to lower your carbon footprint and reduce your electricity bill.
If you are looking for some high-quality solar panels, make sure to check out the portable solar panels by BLUETTI. In addition, we have a wide range of portable solar generators, portable power stations, and accessories to help you harness renewable solar energy!