How does a solar panel convert sunlight into electricity
Our sun is a natural nuclear reactor. It produces small packets of energy called photons, which travel 93 million miles from the sun to Earth in about 8.5 minutes. Every hour, enough photons impact our globe to generate enough solar energy to theoretically supply world energy demands for a whole year.
Currently, solar power contributes barely five-tenths of one percent of the energy utilized in the United States. But solar technology is advancing and the cost of going solar is lowering rapidly, so our potential to harness the sun’s abundance of energy is on the rise.
Basic Steps in solar energy generation and transmission
- Sunlight hits the and forms an electric field.
- The electricity created goes to the edge of the panel, and into a conductive wire.
- The conductive line takes the electricity to the inverter, where it is turned from DC electricity to AC, which is utilized to power buildings.
- Another wire transfers the AC electricity from the inverter to the electric panel on the property (also called a breaker box), which distributes the electricity throughout the building as needed.
- Any electricity not needed upon generation travels via the utility meter and into the utility electrical grid. As the electricity goes through the meter, it causes the meter to run backward, crediting your property for a surplus generation.
Now that we have a basic knowledge of the creation and flow of solar electricity, let’s take a deeper dive into the science underlying the solar.
The science behind solar PV panels
Solar PV panels are constructed of several tiny photovoltaic cells – photovoltaic meaning they can convert sunlight into electricity. These cells are made of semi-conductive materials, most typically silicon, a material that can conduct electricity while preserving the electrical imbalance needed to create an electric field.
When sunlight hits the semiconductor in the solar PV cell, the energy from the light, in the form of photons, is absorbed, knocking loose a number of electrons, which then move freely in the cell. The solar cell is specifically built with positively and negatively charged semiconductors placed together to form an electric field (see the image to the left for a representation) (see the image to the left for a visualization). This electric field causes the drifting electrons to move in a definite direction- towards the conductive metal plates that border the cell. This flow is known as an energy current, and the intensity of the current dictates how much power each cell can create. Once the unbound electrons contact metal plates, the current is then guided through wires, allowing the electrons to flow like they would in any other source of electric generating.
As thegenerates an electric current, the energy passes through a series of wires to an inverter. While solar panels create direct current (DC) electricity, most electricity consumers need alternating current (AC) electricity to operate their structures. The inverter’s role is to turn the electricity from DC to AC, making it accessible for everyday use.
A solar panel on the roof converts sunlight into electricity. The panels convert the energy to DC current, which flows to an inverter. The inverter converts the electricity from DC to AC, which you can then use to power your home. With a solar storage system, customers can store their own energy on-site, reducing reliance on grid electricity.