As the world is moving towards clean and sustainable energy, solar energy has emerged as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Solar panels are a key component of solar energy systems, which capture and convert sunlight into electricity. In this article, we will dive deep into the science behind solar panels and understand how they work.
The Basics of Solar Panels
Before we get into the science of solar panels, let’s first understand what they are and how they work. PV cells are made up of semiconductor materials such as silicon, which absorbs photons (light particles) from the sun and releases electrons.
This flow of electrons creates a current, which can be harnessed and used as electricity. Solar panels are typically made up of multiple PV cells, which are connected in series to increase the voltage and power output.
How Solar Panels Work
The process begins when sunlight hits the solar panel, which is made up of multiple PV cells. Each PV cell contains layers of silicon, which absorb the photons from the sun and release electrons.
The electrons are then collected by metal conductive plates and directed into a circuit. This circuit connects the solar panel to an inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the solar panel into alternating current (AC) electricity that can be used in our homes and businesses.
The AC electricity produced by the solar panel is then sent to a breaker box, which distributes the electricity throughout the building. Any excess electricity produced by the solar panels is sent back to the grid, where it can be used by other homes and businesses.
Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular in residential and commercial settings. Let’s take a look at some real-life examples of solar panels in action.
One such example is the Las Vegas Convention Center, which recently installed a massive solar panel system that covers over 850,000 square feet. This system is expected to generate 8% of the facility’s total electricity needs, saving an estimated $4.5 million in energy costs over the next 25 years.
Another example is the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, which runs almost entirely on solar power. The factory is home to over 1.9 million square feet of solar panels, which produce over 70 megawatts of clean energy.
The Science behind Solar Panels
Now that we understand how solar panels work, let’s dive into the science behind them. Solar panels rely on the photovoltaic effect, which was first discovered by French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel in 1839.
The photovoltaic effect occurs when certain materials, such as silicon, absorb photons from the sun and release electrons. This process creates a flow of electrons, which can be harnessed and used as electricity.
PV cells are made up of layers of silicon, which are treated with impurities to create a “p-n junction.” This junction is where the magic happens. When photons from the sun hit the junction, they knock electrons loose from their atoms, creating a flow of free electrons.
These free electrons are collected by metal conductive plates, which create a circuit. This circuit is what produces the electricity that is used to power our homes and businesses.
Factors Affecting Solar Panel Efficiency
While solar panels are a great source of renewable energy, their efficiency can be affected by a number of factors.