How Do Solar Panels Turn Light Into Energy?

How Do Solar Panels Turn Light Into Energy?

Solar panels may very well go down as one of the most influential, revolutionary and important inventions in human history. For as long as we’ve walked the earth, humans have needed energy for cooking, then for light and today, for entertainment, transportation and plenty of other functions. Our needs for energy continue to grow rapidly and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. However, burning fossil fuels is bad for the planet and other energy sources are either unsafe or simply impractical. Solar changes that by harnessing just a small percentage of the mind-boggling amount of energy with which our sun pummels the earth and converting it into usable power.

But how do solar panels do this? In all reality, it’s actually quite simple.

What’s in a Solar Cell?

Solar cells are what make collecting solar energy possible. A cell is composed of three layers of semi-conductive metal - usually silicon (yes, the same stuff that they use to make electronics). The first layer of silicon is seeded with phosphorus to give the silicon atoms extra electrons. This gives the metal a negative charge. The other layer of silicon is seeded with boron, which gives it a positive charge. The two materials are sandwiched together in order to create an electric field at the point where the two layers meet.

Opposite-charged magnets attract each other and the same can be said for solar cells. However, because silicon is semi-conductive, the two layers don’t actually exchange electrons, or at least they can’t without a little bit of a catalyst. This is where the sun comes into play.

Sunlight is packed with atomic-level particles known as “photons” that travel from the sun to earth at tremendously high speeds. When these photons strike the negative side of your solar cell, they do so with such force and violence that they actually break the atomic bond between these seeded silicon atoms and their electrons. Because these electrons are now free, they are pulled to the magnetic field that is created at the center of the two layers of each solar cell. At that point, these electrons flow freely and are pulled toward conductive plates along the side of each cell that then funnels the electrons out to wires.

The Inverter System

So while your solar panels may have captured solar energy, this energy is useless unless it can be put into a useable form. This is the job of your inverter: a device that turns this captured energy into useable electricity that can power your home and your devices. The power your solar panels produce is what is known as direct current power or DC power. While we do use this type of energy, it’s not what comes out of our walls and thus it’s not what our devices are built to utilize. It’s also not what comes through the public utility power grid, so you wouldn’t’ be able to send unused power to the grid or even use grid power at all while using solar energy. That’s simply not practical.

Instead, this generated power goes to the inverter that switches it from DC current to alternating current or AC. Your inverter is also a highly-advanced piece of technology that ensures that the energy it transforms is then fed into your home’s electrical system at exactly the right voltage for your needs. If voltages don’t match, your power system could become unstable and dangerous, so it’s extremely important to make sure you have a good, high-quality inverter.

Once inside your electrical system, these electrons provide energy for work like any other form of electricity. And once they complete their circuit around your home, they go back through your inverter and back up to your solar energy system. These electrons are sent back to your panels where they are once again released back into your solar cells. However, this time they are released back into your positive-charged silicon layer, where they stay until they are pulled over to the negatively charged side and the process starts all over.

Interested in learning how this technology can help you save money on your energy costs and provide you with clean, emissions-free power? Call Valley Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Solar at (408) 868-5500 today to speak with one of our solar experts.