Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on Earth. Just how abundant is it? Consider this — every hour, enough sunlight hits the earth’s surface to handle all of the world’s energy needs for one full year. When you combine that with the economic and environmental benefits, it’s no wonder that many homeowners are making the switch from fossil fuels to renewable. With this, the question invariably arises — how exactly does a solar panel generate electricity? We’ll cover it all right now.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

A solar panel is a collection of tiny, two-layered silicon cells that absorb particles of light called photons and generate an electric current. This is known as the photovoltaic effect — a scientific principle that allows semiconductive material, like silicon, to emit electrons when exposed to sunlight. 

One of the layers of silicon has a positive charge, the other has a negative. But it’s worth mentioning that pure silicon, as conductive as it is, needs help transferring an electric current. Enter boron and phosphorus, two elements that can transfer an electric current. One layer of the silicon is “doped” with a small amount of phosphorus (known as “N-type” for “negative”), and the other layer with boron (known as P-type for “positive”).

When electrons move between the two layers, a direct current of electricity (or DC) is created. Wires and metal conductors found in between capture and guide this electrical current to an inverter, which is used to convert DC into AC, or alternating current. Unlike DC, AC’s voltage can more easily travel long distances, and this is what we use to transfer power from our solar farms, onto the electric grid and ultimately to our customer’s homes. 

The Different Types of Solar Panels

It’s no secret that solar panel technology has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception in 1883. Right now, there are three types of solar panels on the market and they’re generally separated into two categories: first generation and second generation.

First Generation: Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are the most commonly used solar power technologies. When you see solar panels on someone’s roof, for example, it’s almost always one of these two types. 

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are similar in that they are made from silicon that’s been sliced into wafers and used to construct the photovoltaic cells. The difference, however, is that monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single silicon crystal, whereas polycrystalline panels are made of many crystal fragments that have been melted into one. 

Second Generation: Thin-Film Solar Panels

Second-generation solar panels are made from thin-film materials like silicon, gallium arsenide, copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), and cadmium Telluride (CdTe). These technologies allow the wafers to be even thinner than before, so flexible solar cells are now a possibility that is lighting the way for a bright future.

Other Types of Solar Power Energy

Solar panels aren’t the only way to harness the power of energy from the sun. There are a few other technologies that make use of its potential, including concentrating solar power plants (CSP plants) and solar thermal energy. Both are technologies that, in essence, concentrate thermal energy from the sun to create steam that drives turbines to produce energy. They’re similar to coal power plants but without the greenhouse gases.

You Can Get Paid for Excess Solar Energy

If you’ve looked into having solar panels installed, you’ve undoubtedly heard someone mention the possibility of uploading surplus electricity back to the grid and selling it to their utility. This concept is called net metering.

Net metering is like your electricity meter running in reverse. Whenever your panels produce more energy than you use, like during the day when you’re at work, the surplus is uploaded to the grid and your account is credited. Every month, your electricity meter compares the amount of electricity you purchased during cloudy days or nighttime hours to what you provided to the grid and you’re only billed for the net amount. 

There’s no question that net metering is a major incentive that improves the appeal of solar even more because you create clean energy for both yourself and your community while saving money.

Thinking About Installing Solar Panels?

If you have decided that installing solar panels is the right decision for your family, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when shopping around for a company to provide the hardware and perform the installation. The first is to do just that — shop around. There are a lot of providers in the solar space. Do your research and find one with an established track record of success and happy customers.

And when you’re shopping around, make sure to take the equipment into consideration. Some solar units are more efficient and more well constructed than others. You want your investment to be strong and pay off as soon as possible. A reliable company will be able to provide all of that information in terms that are easy to understand.

You should also know that while it’s still in the early stages of liftoff, we’re going to provide residential rooftop solar installation very soon, and we’d love for you to be the foundation on which we start. Talk to one of our agents about upcoming availability in your area.