We all know what a solar panel looks like, but how does a solar panel make electricity?  The traditional method of making electricity is by using water pressure or steam pressure to turn a turbine which creates electricity.  But a solar panel just sits there in the sun and has no moving parts, so how does a solar panel make electricity?

When you look closely at a solar panel you will see it is made up of a metal frame that hold a piece of tempered glass.  Behind the glass are many blue colored square “cells”, all lined up in rows.  If you look really closely, you will see that there is another layer behind the cells called a back-sheet.  You can see portions of the back-sheet between each cell.  The back-sheet acts as a reflector to bounce any light that may get through the cell, back toward the cell.

But how does the solar panel actually make electricity?  The blue cells on the panel are made of high grade silicon, similar to the silicon that is used in semi-conductors.  The back of each cell is coated with a special chemical that makes the silicon reactive to light particles.  We call this property “photovoltaic”.  Light from the sun contains particles called “photons”, and when the photons strike the silicon cells, an electron is released.  We all know that electricity is made up of electrons that flow through a wire.  So as millions of electrons are released across the entire solar panel, electricity is made.

Now if you look closely, again, at the solar panel, you will see little, tiny, thin wires that run parallel to each other from one end of the panel to the other.  As the electrons are released, they find their way to the thin wires and they all line up and follow the wires to a small junction box that is located on the back of the panel.  Out of the junction box comes two larger wires, one is positive, and one is negative.  These wires are hooked up, solar panel to solar panel, to multiply the amount of electricity made.  The more solar panels, the more electricity.  Unlike a turbine, a solar panel does not have any moving parts, nothing  to  break.  A solar panel only looses 1/2% efficiency per year, so in 20 years, the solar panel is still making 90% of its original production.

Simple, eh?  But it’s not over, because this electricity made by solar panels is in the form of  DC or “direct current”, and our homes use AC or “alternating current”.  This will be the topic for another blog.



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