The term ‘solar panel’ is a catch-all word used to describe all devices that use the sun’s energy to create electricity. But there are actually many different kinds.
This article is focused on the kind of solar panel you see on domestic roofs, road signs and in fields called Photovoltaic Solar Panels (or solar PV panels). So how do they work?
Making Power with PV Panels
Solar PV panels make use of a scientific concept called the ‘photoelectric effect’. This was first discovered in 1839, when scientists observed certain materials give off an electric current when exposed to sunlight.
These materials are naturally composed of different layers, some of which have too many electrons and some of which have too few. Causing the electrons to flow back and forth between these two layers when exposed to the sun’s energy.
This generates an electric field, which can be harnessed by attaching electrodes to either end of the object.
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Harnessing the sun with PV Panels
Knowing this, scientists set out to re-create this natural phenomenon artificially as a way of making electricity – and modern PV solar panels were born.
Much more efficient and better at harvesting sunlight than the natural version, artificial PV panels are made of specially treated silicon that is even more unstable than natural silicon. Thus making it more prone to shedding and gaining electrons.
This electricity is then tapped off using ‘contacts’ on the front and rear of the panel, and converted from DC to AC current to be used in your home.
PV panels and you
Nowadays, millions of homes across the world use PV panels to generate some or all of their electricity. Companies like Sun Power and Solar Edge specialise in solar panel installation to tap this limitless source of energy, which is both 100% carbon neutral and free.
While solar panels work best in countries with more sun, they are still effective under cloud. They only require light to work – not direct sunlight. Most countries also have generous incentive schemes to encourage solar panel use. So it is worth investigating if you can benefit from help to pay some or all of the installation cost – and get generating your own free energy!