When you look at residential solar panels, you are looking at years of scientific research and a few scientific breakthroughs that have created a cheap and widely available alternative energy source. After a solar power installation is over, the homeowner can use their panels to reduce the amount of electricity they get from the electrical grid, and that is how solar panels pay for themselves over time. But how do they work?
No matter how you generate it, electricity is still electricity. Contrary to popular belief, solar powered homes are not getting a different kind of electricity from the kind that is generated on the grid. It is all electricity, but the residential solar panels generate the power differently than the grid does. The science can be a little complicated, but let’s try to break it down in a way that we can all wrap our brains around.
The Silicon Sandwich
While there are a few different ways to make solar panels, the general construction of the cells in a panel is the same. Every solar panel is made up of individual pieces called photovoltaic cells. The word “photovoltaic” basically means that you are generating energy using light.
Each photovoltaic cell is a silicon sandwich made up of two layers of silicon squeezed together. The top layer of silicon is sprinkled with phosphorous to create a negative charge. It does this by adding an overabundance of electrons to the system. The bottom layer is given a material that reduces the amount of electrons and that creates a positive charge. Most manufacturers use boron to create the positive charge, but there are other materials used that wind up in solar powered homes.
The reason that one layer of silicon is given a negative charge and the other is given a positive charges is to create an electric field within the cell. But the field by itself is unable to generate electricity that will power a home. That is where the sunshine comes in.
Let The Sunshine In
Sunlight has protons in it, and protons drive electrons crazy. When the protons from sunlight hit the photovoltaic cells, they knock the electrons free from their atoms. The electric field that is in place then allows the electrons to start circulating throughout the cell to create an electric charge.
Once a charge is created, there are metal plates on each side of the cell that carry that charge to the solar power system. When all of the cells in a single panel work together, they create a significant flow of electricity that the system can either store in batteries, or use to power the home.
By understanding how solar powered homes work, it can help to take away some of the mystery from solar power. Residential solar panels are completely safe, and they are a great way to reduce the amount of money you pay for your electricity bills every month.