Solar power is becoming a fast growing industry with many everyday people choosing to install solar paneling on their roofs. It a clean and efficient way to harness energy that does not require the burning of a fossil fuel such as coal, oil or gas. Solar power is also used to light streets, power satellites and in small electronic items such as calculators. Have you ever wondered how solar panels work? Read on to find out.
What are Solar Panels made of?
To understand how solar panels work you first need to know what they are made of. Solar panels are made of group of solar cells which function like semiconductors. These solar cells are made from special semi conductive materials such as silicon, phosphorus and boron. These silicon cells are encased inside non-reflective glass panels. One plate of the cell is made of silicon and phosphorus and the other plate is made of silicon and boron. They are sandwiched together and connected via conductive wires. There are metal contacts placed on the top and bottom of each cell to channel the energy created.
What is Silicon?
The key to how solar panels work is silicon. Silicon is an atom that has four electrons in its outer shell. It however has room to hold eight electrons and is always looking for a way to fill up its outer shell. So when it combines with another silicon atom, which has four electrons in the outer shell, it becomes full and thus stable and does not produce either a positive or negative charge. This is known as pure crystallite silicon. Silicon forms the basis for solar electricity. When silicon is combined with phosphorus it becomes impure and more conductive. The combination creates a negative charge as phosphorus has five electrons in its outer shell and when combined with silicon it leave an electron free. The extra electron is known as a free carrier and carries an electric current. When the silicon is combined with boron it has a positive charge as boron only has three electrons leaving a free “space” for another electron.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
When sunlight strikes the solar panel a certain amount of it is absorbed by the solar cell (silicon combinations). The energy/heat gained from the sunlight or photons excites the atoms and knocks loose the extra electron from the phosphorus atom. The extra electron from the silicon and phosphorus combination transfers to the free “space” in the silicon and boron combination creating an electrical charge. The electrical charge is channeled by the metal contacts into an inverter. The inverter changes the electrical current into basic voltage and AC electrical power. This can then be stored and used to run electrical items.