How Solar Panels Work

 Solar Panels Work

Solar Panels Work
Solar Panels Work

Solar Panels: An Introduction

Harnessing the power of the sun seems quite logical, particularly in sunny locations such as Florida and other areas in close proximity to the equator.  The invention of the photovoltaic cell has allowed us to harness a more natural form of power, which provides an option for individuals, countries, companies and many other host applications to expand their sources of electricity necessary for existence. 

 A solar panel itself is comprised of many photovoltaic cells, which essentially move around within a closed-loop system to spur electricity from their movement.  We will dive into exactly how they work in the following sections and try to keep the explanation as simple as possible.

How does a solar panel work?

A solar panel is comprised of a couple layers of cells.  The top silicon layer carries free electrons – un-anchored particles with negative charges.  A thicker bottom layer contains holes, or absences of electrons, that also can move freely.  So basically, a solar panel contains an electronic imbalance between the two layers.  When sunlight hits a solar panel, photons bombard and penetrate the top layer cells, which activate electrons, knocking them loose in both layers.  Electrons in the bottom layer shoot to the top of the cell and these electrons flow into metal contacts, causing an electric current, moving into a circuit.  Electrons flow back into the cell via a solid contact layer at the bottom, creating a closed loop circuit.  In layman’s terms, the cells move around when sunlight hits them and when they hit metal contacts electricity is made.  The process keeps going until sunlight no longer forces the cells in the panel to move around.

Worldwide, appliances operate on AC (alternating current).  So the electricity form a solar panel flows via wire conduit to an inverter, which inverts direct current into an alternating current, usable by the general public in a variety of applications.  When you think about the simplistic nature of utilizing cell movement for generating electricity you wonder how it took us this long to create solar panels.  Finally, batteries are necessary to store the harnessed energy for times when sunlight is not available.

Benefits of Solar Panels

For those who value slowing thermal erosion of the ozone layer, more commonly known as global warming, solar panels are an option of generating electricity which does not expel pollution by-products.  In this sense, solar panels are a form of cleaner energy than many other traditional types of electric generation processes.  Solar panels save society and individuals large sums of money as well! Who can argue with the cost vs. benefits of introducing solar panels on an individual scale all the way up to a societal scale?  Also, the energy produced from solar panels is reliable, provides a level of security (sunlight cannot be monopolized), it creates energy independence and it creates green sector jobs within our economy.

Disadvantages of Solar Panels

Utilizing solar panels for an energy source can only go so far due to the necessity of sunlight.  Batteries are needed to store energy harnessed form solar panels to supply society during dark hours of the night or in regions where sunlight is less prevalent.  Another issue that may need to be addressed and is becoming more commonplace is the logistical issues which utilizing solar panels on a larger societal scale can create.  For example, in Hawaii specifically, local municipalities have partnered with utility companies to require citizens wishing to install solar panels to apply for a permit beforehand. 

 Because the benefits of solar panel are so great in the sunny environment of Hawaii, thousands of homes are having panels installed, which can create an excess of electricity.  Utility companies can soak the power into the grid and in many cases pay homeowners for their surplus contribution.  But the flood of interest in solar panels has over-loaded current power grid infrastructure – hence the requirement of permits prior to individual installation.  Basically, utility infrastructure must be upgraded to hold the surplus of electricity, and this technology seems to be behind the solar panel movement ever so slightly.  Although, there are worse problems to be had than devising ways to keep up with this incredible green technology.

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