How Does A Solar Panel Work?

Why would you go for solar panel installation? Is it because these seemingly cool and flat silicon surfaces have a proven track record of cutting down your utility bills? Or is it because you found these energy conversion alternatives as a means to secure your investment? There are many ways to look at it.

Anyways, you’ve decided to go for solar panel installation, and we’re here to tell you everything about these black glistering glass cells.

I know that you perceive them as high-tech equipment that RUNS on solar energy. Here ‘Running’ refers to:

  • Absorbing energy from the sun
  • Converting it to electricity
  • Supplying that electric power to your home, office, or commercial building – just like the way you receive conventional energy

How does a solar panel do all the things I mentioned above?

So, let me help you from here as I take you right down to the bottom of all this, Step-by-Step!

How Does A Solar Panel Work?

Solar panels are energy-converting tools that can only work when they absorb sunlight.

How do they absorb sunlight? Through the photovoltaic cells – those blackish (at times, bluish) rectangular plates that got you hooked the first time you saw them on someone’s roof, open-air backyard, or spacious garden.

What do they do with the sunlight?

These silicon-made photovoltaic cells generate direct current (DC), which is later converted into alternating current (AC).

I believe you’d already know how DC-to-AC conversion takes place. If you answered, ‘Inverter technology,’ you’re right.

The alternating current energy is functional and thus flowing in your home’s electric panel, which distributes it as per requirement, and supplies power.

The electrical grid ‘stores’ the excessive supply generated by the solar panels to use later.

The above explanation has a few things that require further explanation. Then there are some crucial factors without which solar panels cannot work.

Let’s discuss them one after another.

The Roof

Why roof? Aren’t I supposed to discuss solar panels here?

In most households, the roof is the place that receives most of the sunlight compared to other parts. Now, can you see why people install solar panels on the roof?

So, you have to place the solar panels in an open space, which receives maximum sunlight. There’s no guessing what’s the best time –  between 9 am and 3 pm.

Generally, solar panels tilted in the direction facing towards the south are ideal for optimum sunlight capture (in the northern hemisphere).

Any object casting shadows on the solar panels – trees or any other obstruction – causes a loss of efficiency.

Suppose your solar energy panel consists of 36 photovoltaic cells. All cells, except for one, enjoy maximum exposure to the sun.

Beyond your wildest imagination, this single cell located in the shade can decrease the power production of the entire panel by 50% or even more.

This is why Installation contractors with experience commonly use Solar Pathfinder, a device to recognize and detect areas with potential shading before installation.

Solar Panel

The solar panel features solar cells wired in layers in a metal casing and a glass case. Each panel has numerous wires to ensure a smooth flow of electric supply.

Each solar cell contains a thin wafer consisting of two silicon layers – one with a positive charge and the other with a negative charge – to create an electrical field.

Since silicon is a good conductor, it absorbs daylight and alters it into electrical energy. You might wonder how.

This interaction of sunbeams with silicon cells spurs an excitement in the electrons, and they get charged up.

As a result, these charged particles escape from the atoms within the semiconductor silicon stick and move around to create a course of electric current.

Solar Cells and Their Types

Solar cells come in two types; monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

Monocrystalline cells are the purest and hardest to manufacture. They cut a piece of silicon from a slab or metal of an unbroken, solitary silicon crystal for their creation.

Polycrystalline cells, or poly cells, are mass-produced silicon blocks containing tiny grains of silicon.

Mono cells are highly efficient as their formation allows the free movement of electrons all over the cells, resulting in higher electric power. This tendency leads to a higher price as well. Conversely, poly cells are way cheap, but so is their efficiency.

A 100-watt poly panel is a little bigger than a 100-watt mono panel. If you want to know more, check out my video about it:

The Photovoltaic Effect

Did you know? Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839.

The movement caused by the interaction of sunlight and silicon cells results in the generation of electric current. This process is known as the photovoltaic effect.

Let’s break the process.

  • Silicon solar cells absorb astral rays or radiation.
  • This interaction results in the excitement of electrons.
  • These excited electrons move and spawn a current of electricity, which is a direct current.

Now, all you need to make this DC voltage usable for the household is a tool that converts it into AC voltage.

Solar Inverter

You need a pure sine wave inverter to do the conversion. The solar panel wiring carries DC current into the solar inverter so that you get the desired AC current. Why?

DC voltage powers batteries and numerous portable electronics, but your household appliances work on AC.

So, how can you convert it into usable current? Here’s a catch:

The DC voltage flows in one direction while AC current alters its path. If it keeps on changing direction at a rapid pace, it’ll become an alternating current.

alternating current from power inverter
AC power from a solar inverter
DC signal from battery
DC signal from battery or solar panel

The conversion process goes like this: An electric grid called a solar inverter acts as a processing center where the DC undergoes the direction-changing process.

This process alters the direction of the current 50 to 60 times a second and eventually converts it into alternating current.

Solar Inverter Location

Where should you mount the inverter? A place adjacent and close to the solar panel would be nice.

Talk to an expert, and he’ll advise you to use external sidewalls to install the inverter since it is relatively noisy.

Other than the solar inverter, you’re going to need an electricity net meter and production meter.

This ensures that the current electrical load should consume the power generated by the panel.

Net Meter

The inverter transforms the direct current power into alternating current energy and then feeds it directly into the utility power distribution system of your house or the building. This power is ‘net-metered,’ which ultimately means fewer utility bills.

How does the net meter affect utility bills?

The net meter records and measures the electric current flow to and from your solar panel system. It lowers the demand for power from the main supply when the solar panel is in action and produces sufficient energy.

Net Metering

On a cloudy or rainy day, when solar modules cannot capture sufficient sunlight, you may require energy from the main power supply. Similarly, when there is surplus energy due to less usage, during your office hours or at nighttime, it is sent back to the grid. The net meter measures everything.

The utility company would charge you for your usage and also provide credits for the extra power you send back there. This process is called net metering.

Additional Aspects

Solar cells are in a glass covering, providing safety, strength, and resilience for the photovoltaic silicon cells. Beneath this glass case, a layer for isolation and the protective rear sheath is present. This insulation layer protects against humid conditions or heat dissipation in the panel.

You cannot deny the importance of heat, and humid weather, which can result in lower efficiency and compromised solar panel performance.

Furthermore, solar panels come with an anti-reflection undercoat to enhance the solar light absorption; as a result, silicon cells get maximum exposure to the sunlight.

Final Thoughts

Solar panels provide a healthy, environment-friendly, and clean option for power generation. It can efficiently run your house power supply if installed correctly. That’s why knowing how a solar panel works is quite important.

You may agree that there are many things to know about solar panels, their working, the importance of proper installation, the difference between DC energy and AC energy, the significance of an inverter, net metering, and much more.

Get Started With Off-Grid Solar Power

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With over 1,300 reviews at 4.5 stars, I can almost guarantee that this book will save you $ 100 on buying the right equipment.

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2 thoughts on “How Does A Solar Panel Work?”

  1. Excellent help sir,
    Building a 28×36 cabin fully off grid. What pitch roof is best and is it worth it to install panels on both sides of the roof to get an and pm sun?

    • Hello Julian. Regarding the tilt angle, you need to optimize for winter if you are going to live full time in the cabin. This is the formula: opt angle winter = your latitude + 10°. For summer: op summer angle = 3.7 + (0.69 × your latitude). If your cabin is facing east and west, then it would be a good solution. Ideally, it should face south. Remember to get two charge controllers for each side of the roof and make sure your battery can handle the amps it’s being charged. If you want to build your own system, I highly recommend getting my book.


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