How Do Solar Panels Make Electricity?

STEP 1: SUNLIGHT ACTIVATES THE PANELS.

Each individual panel is constructed of a layer of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass casing surrounded by a special film, and wiring. For maximum effect, the panels are grouped together into “arrays” (an ordered series) and placed on rooftops or in large outdoor spaces. The solar cells, which are also referred to as photovoltaic cells, absorb sunlight during daylight hours.

STEP 2: THE CELLS PRODUCE ELECTRICAL CURRENT.

Within each solar cell is a thin semiconductor wafer made from two layers of silicon. One layer is positively charged, and the other negatively charged, forming an electric field. When light energy from the sun strikes a photovoltaic solar cell, it energizes the cell and causes electrons to ‘come loose’ from atoms within the semiconductor wafer. Those loose electrons are set into motion by the electric field surrounding the wafer, and this motion creates an electrical current.

STEP 3: THE ELECTRICAL ENERGY IS CONVERTED.

You now have solar panels working efficiently to transform sunlight into electricity, but the electricity generated is called direct current (or DC) electricity, which is not the type of electricity that powers most homes, which is alternating current (or AC) electricity. Fortunately, DC electricity can easily be changed into AC electricity by a gadget called an inverter.

STEP 4: THE CONVERTED ELECTRICITY POWERS YOUR HOME.

Once the solar energy has been converted from DC to AC electricity, it runs through your electrical panel and is distributed within the home to power your appliances. It works exactly the same way as the electrical power generated through the grid by your electric utility company, so nothing within the home needs to change. Since you still remain connected to your traditional power company, you can automatically draw additional electricity to supplement any solar shortages from the grid.

STEP 5: A NET METER MEASURES USAGE.

A meter is used to measure the electricity flowing in both directions—to and from your home. Your utility company will provide credits for any surplus power you send back to the grid. The lights will turn on, same as always, except your wallet is heavier and your energy is green!

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