How Do Solar Panels Generate Electricity?

The Most Comprehensive DIY Solar Panel GuideQuestion: Solar panels seem to be the right way to go, but I like to know what’s going on under the hood before I invest in something. How do solar panels generate electricity?

Answer: Solar panels generate electricity by exploiting the benefits of the silicon revolution. Silicon is an invaluable substance in the world of electricity and electronics since it is completely neutral, and has no positive or negative charge.

This fact is taken advantage of by “doping”, or adding extra elements to, the silicon in two different ways: with phosphorous (which has a positive charge) and with boron (which has a negative charge). When one side of a piece of silicon is doped with phosphorous and the opposite side is doped with boron, an electric field is created. Electric fields are what allow electrons to flow and create a current of electricity.

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Now that we have an electric field, all we need are electrons and we have electricity. Sunlight consists of tiny particles called photons. When sunlight reaches a solar panel, these photons bombard the silicon plates with enough energy to knock off loose electrons in the silicon plates. These loose electrons find themselves in the middle of an electric field which promotes their movement from the negatively charged area to the positive charged area, and voila we have an electric current!

So how can we use this current to power our home? A small piece of silicon doped in such a way is called a solar cell. Several solar cells are connected together to form a solar panel. Several solar panels can be connected together to form a solar array.

When all of these are properly wired together, and sunlight is available, the current created on the silicon plates is captured and controlled by some additional, easily-accessible electrical equipment (inverters, charge controllers, wiring, batteries) and what you have left is an electric current that can be used to power your home, or have its energy stored in batteries for later use, all powered conveniently by the sun’s energy.

As a consumer-benefit, all of the additional equipment and the solar panels themselves can be purchased and installed as a DIY project, which can reduce installation costs.

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