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How Do Solar Panels Work?: Understanding the Mechanics of Solar Panels

Published on:
14 August 2023

Solar panels have emerged as a beacon of hope in an era marked by the pressing need to shift towards renewable energy sources.

The United Kingdom, in particular, has witnessed a remarkable surge in solar panel installations, contributing significantly to its clean energy targets. But you might be wondering, “How do solar panels work?” In this comprehensive guide, we will gain insight into the workings of solar panels, shedding light on the science behind their operation and their crucial role in the renewable energy landscape.

Harnessing Sunlight: The Basic Principle

At the heart of solar panels lies the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon that converts sunlight directly into electricity. Now you might be thinking that we don’t get much sunlight here in the UK, so how do solar panels still work? Advancements in technology have made it possible to generate electricity even under diffuse light conditions.

According to the Renewable Energy Hub, solar panel cells are typically made from semiconductor materials such as silicon. When sunlight, or photons, strike these cells, they stimulate electrons within the material, generating an electric current. This flow of electrons is then captured and transformed into usable electricity.

Understanding Photovoltaic Cells

To comprehend the science behind solar panels, exploring the inner workings of photovoltaic cells is essential. According to Solar Trade Association’s report, silicon is the predominant material used due to its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. These cells consist of the p-type (positively charged) layer and the n-type (negatively charged) layer.

When photons from sunlight penetrate the cell, they knock electrons loose from the atoms in the semiconductor material. The electric field formed between the p-type and n-type layers directs these freed electrons towards the surface, creating an electric current. This flow of electrons is harnessed by metal contacts on the cell’s surface, and voilà, electricity is generated!

Innovations Enhancing Efficiency

Advancements in solar technology are constantly pushing the boundaries of efficiency. One notable innovation, highlighted by The Guardian, is the development of tandem solar cells. These cells stack multiple layers of semiconductors to capture a broader spectrum of sunlight. By doing so, they optimise energy generation even on cloudy days.

But did you know you can make money from your solar panels? Yes, you read that right! When you install solar panels, depending on your energy consumption and how much electricity your solar panels produce, you may generate more energy than you need. This is a good thing because, according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the UK government has actively promoted solar energy adoption. The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), introduced in 2020, ensures that individuals and businesses are fairly paid for the excess electricity they generate and feed back into the grid, making solar panels an attractive investment. Find more information here.

The Role of Inverters

While photovoltaic cells perform the vital task of converting sunlight into electricity, inverters play an equally crucial role in the process. As the Energy Saving Trust affirmed, inverters are the devices responsible for converting the direct current electricity produced by solar panels into alternating current electricity, which is the type of electricity used in homes and businesses.

In addition to converting the electricity, inverters ensure that the energy produced is synchronised with the grid’s frequency and voltage, making it seamlessly compatible with the existing electrical infrastructure. This synchronisation allows surplus electricity to be efficiently exported to the grid or stored in batteries for later use.

The Environmental Impact

The environmental benefits of solar panels are significant and align with the UK’s commitment to combat climate change. A report by the Carbon Trust emphasises that solar panels produce no direct emissions during operation, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. This is crucial for achieving the UK’s ambitious goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Furthermore, solar panels require minimal maintenance, and the materials used in their production can be recycled, reducing their environmental footprint. The increasing adoption of solar energy also contributes to enhancing the resilience and reliability of the national grid.

Wrapping Up

Solar panels have emerged as a vital component of this journey as the UK strives to transition towards a sustainable energy future. By harnessing the power of sunlight through the photovoltaic effect, these panels are revolutionising how we generate electricity. Solar panels are paving the way for a cleaner, greener future, from the innovative technologies that enhance efficiency to the pivotal role of inverters and the substantial environmental benefits. So, the next time you witness a solar panel array glistening under the British sky, you’ll know that it’s not just a cluster of panels – it’s a testament to the remarkable science that powers our planet’s sustainable tomorrow for future generations.

Contact Us

If you have more questions about solar panels, we are more than happy to help you out. Give us a call at 0148 223 0422 or email us at info@eastyorkshiresolar.co.uk, and one of our friendly team members will get back to you ASAP.