How Does a Solar Panel Work? | Solar Panel Types

A Solar panel (also known as a "PV panel") is a device that converts light from the sun, which is composed of particles of energy called "photons", into electricity that can be used to power electrical loads.
Solar panel

What is Solar Panel?

Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are semiconductor devices that convert sunlight into electricity. When sunlight hits a PV cell, it causes the electrons in the cell to become excited and move around. This movement of electrons generates an electric current, which can be used to power devices or systems.

Solar panels are typically made from silicon, which is a semi-conductive material. When silicon is exposed to sunlight, it creates an electric field, which causes the electrons in the silicon to become excited and move around. This movement of electrons creates an electric current, which can be captured and used to power devices or systems.

Solar panels are typically mounted on rooftops or on the ground and are oriented to face the sun. This allows them to capture as much sunlight as possible and generate as much electricity as possible.

Solar panels are typically connected to an inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) electricity generated by the solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity, which can be used by household appliances and devices.

Solar panels have many benefits, including:

  • They are a clean and renewable source of energy.
  • They can help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
  • They can save money on electricity bills, as they generate electricity for free once they are installed.
  • They can be used to power homes, businesses, and other buildings.
  • Overall, solar panels are an important part of the renewable energy landscape and can help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and lower our carbon footprint.

On this page, we will discuss the history, technology, and benefits of solar panels. We will learn how solar panels work, how they are made, and how they create electricity.

A Short History of Solar Panels

The use of solar panels to generate electricity can be traced back to the 19th century when French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect, which is the process by which sunlight is converted into electricity.

In the 1950s, researchers at Bell Labs developed the first practical photovoltaic cell, which was made of silicon and had an efficiency of around 6%. These early solar cells were expensive and not very efficient, so they were not widely used.

In the 1970s, the price of solar cells began to decrease, and their efficiency began to increase. This made it more practical to use solar panels to generate electricity on a larger scale. In the 1980s and 1990s, the use of solar panels began to increase, and they became more widely available for use in homes and businesses.

Today, solar panels are a common sight on rooftops and in solar farms, and they are an important part of the renewable energy landscape. Advances in technology have made solar panels more efficient and affordable, and they are now used to generate electricity in many parts of the world.

How do solar panels work?

When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electric field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.

Here is a step-by-step explanation of how solar panels work:

How do solar panels work
  • Sunlight hits the solar panel: Solar panels are mounted on rooftops or on the ground and are oriented to face the sun. When sunlight hits the panel, it is absorbed by the photovoltaic (PV) cells in the panel.
  • The PV cells convert sunlight into electricity: PV cells are made of semiconductor materials, such as silicon, that are sensitive to sunlight. When sunlight hits a PV cell, it causes the electrons in the cell to become excited and move around. This movement of electrons generates an electric current, which can be used to power devices or systems.
  • The electric current is captured and sent to an inverter: The PV cells in the solar panel are connected together in a series, and the entire panel is encased in a protective cover to protect the cells from the elements. The electric current generated by the PV cells is sent to an inverter, which is a device that converts the direct current (DC) electricity generated by the solar panel into alternating current (AC) electricity. AC electricity is the type of electricity that is used by household appliances and devices.
  • AC electricity is used to power devices and systems: The AC electricity generated by the inverter can be used to power devices and systems in the home or business. It can also be sent back to the grid if the solar panel system is connected to the grid.

Overall, solar panels are a clean and efficient way to generate electricity and are an important part of the renewable energy landscape. They can help to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions and can save money on electricity bills by generating electricity for free once they are installed.

Types of Solar Panel

There are several types of solar panels available on the market, and each type has its own unique characteristics and benefits. Here is a more detailed description of the four main types of solar panels:

1. Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Monocrystalline solar panels: These panels are made from single, pure silicon crystals and are known for their high efficiency and sleek, black appearance. They are made by slicing thin wafers of silicon from a cylindrical crystal of silicon and are typically the most efficient type of solar panel available.

They have an efficiency rate of around 25%, which means that they can convert around 20-25% of the sunlight that hits them into electricity. They are more expensive than other types of panels, but they also tend to have a longer lifespan of 25 to 40 years is longer than other solar panels.

Monocrystalline solar cell

2. Polycrystalline Solar Panel

Polycrystalline solar panels are a newer development in the different types of solar panels, but they are rising quickly in popularity and efficiency.

These panels are made from multiple, smaller silicon crystals and have a distinctive, mottled appearance. They are made by melting multiple silicon crystals together and then cooling them into a solid block, which is then sliced into thin wafers.

They have an efficiency rate of around 20%, which is slightly lower than monocrystalline panels. They are less expensive and easier to manufacture than monocrystalline panels. Other downsides to polycrystalline include a lower heat tolerance and a shorter average lifespan of 25 to 35 years.

3. Thin-film solar panel

These panels are made from thin layers of photovoltaic material, such as amorphous silicon or cadmium telluride, and are known for their flexibility and durability. They are made by depositing thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate, such as glass or plastic.

They have an efficiency rate of around 15%, which is lower than monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels. They are also less expensive and can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes, making them a good option for certain applications. However, they are also more sensitive to heat and have a shorter lifespan between 10 and 20 years.

4. Amorphous Solar Panel

The cheapest form of solar cell is an amorphous solar cell. These are newly launched cells that are manufactured in a unique way. They avoid the use of crystals. Instead, their production process involves thin silicon deposits on the backing substrate.

Amorphous solar cells provide two major benefits, ie. Flexibility in solar cells with its extremely thin silicon layer, and high efficiency in low levels of light during winter.

But, while these promise the above benefits, they also compromise efficiency. They provide the lowest efficiency rates of 7% – 9% compared to the other two variants. Thus, they require about twice the panel area to give the same output. Until now, they do not even have an approved production technology in the industry, and therefore, they are less robust than the other two types of solar panels.

5. Biohybrid Solar Panel

It is not a completely solar cell, but a hybrid solar cell is a mixture of monocrystalline solar cells and amorphous solar cells. Hybrid solar cells are called HET (heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer) solar cells.

Compared to each individual type of solar cell, the hybrid type is the most efficient due to the combination of the power of the two solar cells. These work best during sunny seasons, ie beyond the 250C temperature. In view of the same, this helps generate about 10% more electricity.

If one has to choose the best, polycrystalline cells prove to be the most suitable for most installations due to their value for money, design, and efficiency rate.

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