We know what they do, but how exactly do solar panels do what they do? It’s all down to the photovoltaic cells that they contain in an array which are able to convert energy that comes from the sun into another form of energy – electricity. The idea of a photovoltaic effect is when photons of light are able to push or convert electrons into different and higher forms of energy which is used for electricity. Those solar cells make a direct electrical current from light and that electric current can be used to charge batteries or power any kind of electrical equipment. Most often these solar PV systems are built using silicon, which is normally in a crystalline form. There are however many cheaper (and it has to be said better looking) options now also appearing on the market.
Traditional solar modules are built using PV cells that sit behind a sheet of glass and are also linked together in a series so that they can then generate their power output as DC (or Direct Current). The more PV modules that are then in turn connected together, the more electrical output can then be generated.
If you were wondering how it works at a deeper level than that then it is like this: the energy that comes from the sun is directed onto the silicon and a charge is placed in each cell, thereby releasing an electron from within the atom. That charge in the cell will mean that the electron then flows towards a positive layer. This electron flow in turn then causes a current to be generated. And this direct current is then taken and converted through an inverter within the system into AC (Alternating Current) which is output at the exact same level as electricity from (and to) the National Grid.
Material used in the PV cells include polycrystalline silicon, monocrystalline silicon, microcrystalline silicon, copper indium selenide/sulfide and cadmium telluride.