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Solar Panels – How They Work

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The generation of electricity from solar panels is the result of entirely natural processes.

Silicon

The base material used in most traditional solar panels is Silicon, a naturally occurring metal which is abundant within the earth’s crust, and able to carry an electrical charge. Sunlight takes the form of particles called photons. Each crystal of Silicon is surrounded by electrons, which become agitated when these photons reach them, and this produces a current. This is then harvested between two electrodes and becomes electricity.

If the light source is obstructed, the charge will fade. This effect is easiest to see in a solar calculator, as the display will fade if an obstacle is placed between the light source and the solar panel. Silicon solar panels can power anything from calculators and torches to spacecraft.

Solar Panel Creation

Silicon crystals are laid flat and protected by a sheet of glass, usually connected to other solar panels in what is called a solar array. The main problem is that you need a lot of Silicon arrays to generate just a little power – a single solar panel needs to be wired into an array in order to harvest enough electricity to run even the simplest applications.

If the system is a stand-alone array designed to supply a single facility, it will require batteries to store the excess charge that it accumulates during the day. Grid-connected photovoltaic systems will allow the charge to contribute to the national electricity network. The best thing about them is that they don’t need to be turned on and off – they will work when light is available. Solar panels can also take the form of tiles for your roof – useful when considering the appearance of a building.

The best results are achieved by installing the solar panels in direct alignment with the sun – a device known as a solar tracker will automatically rotate larger arrays towards the sun throughout the course of the day. This is important for larger arrays or solar power stations.

Solar Panel Installation

Installation is comparatively straightforward. The biggest costs are related to the purchase of the solar panels themselves, which can be offset against the free electricity that they should eventually generate. Fortunately the costs of buying and installing solar panels have fallen dramatically, and new technologies are in constant development. Once established, operating costs of solar panels are tiny.

Thinner materials used for solar panels include Cadmium Telluride, which is cheaper to produce than Silicon, and should provide 20 years of use. This new thin-film solar panel technology has been used in so-called Solar Parks or ‘PV Farms’ which allow the large-scale generation of electricity. These have great potential for energy supply to equatorial countries which experience the greatest consistency of sunlight, as they are relative easy to install, and do not produce any pollutants. However they still only contribute 1-2% of power requirements to developed countries which are still overwhelmingly powered by fossil fuels.

Find out more about solar panels from the Solar Contact website. Discover how to make your home more energy efficient and get in touch with local suppliers

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