How Do Solar Panels Work? A Guide on the Technology



With possibly 38% efficiency solar panels in our near future, a lot of people have a lot of questions.

How do solar panels work? What is solar cell efficiency? Does it even matter?

If you’re trying to figure out how to install solar panels or looking for the best solar panels out there, you know how confusing this market can be. Let’s shed a little light on the subject and get down to brass tacks.

Keep reading to find out everything you need about how solar panel technology and how it works.

Solar Cell Efficiency In Action

Solar cell efficiency ratings are expressed in percentages. Percentages of what? The total light energy hitting a specified area, at a specific air density and temperature, being converted into electricity.

Did you get all that? Manufacturers and installers like Blue Raven Solar depend on scientists to do complex research in order to design solar power systems that will work in the real world.

To do that they need STC, or standard test conditions, to determine whether one type of panel will work or not for a given installation. IBC solar cells may have higher efficiency, but don’t work well in hot climates. HJT cells are only slightly less efficient, but their heat coefficient is much better, and they’re still durable cells.

That means in colder or hotter climates than the test conditions the initial efficiency rating was gained in, the HJT cell may be better. In a place like northern California or South Carolina, where the temperature is more moderate and usually in the 60° to 80°F range, maybe IBC will be better.

It’s a relationship between efficiency and heat coefficients that will help you determine the best solar panels for your region and climate.

P-N Junction and Solar Panel Science

So how do solar panels work? They involve electrons moving between two silicon materials made similarly, but with different ingredients.

Currently, most solar panels are silicon. Any semiconductive material that is transparent enough, in theory, could work at some level. This is because of P- and N-type junctions in materials.

In one silicon slice, you have pure silicon that has had a small percentage of its atoms removed and replaced with boron or gallium. This makes the P-type semiconductor.

You then have another crystal slice of silicon and replace some of the atoms with phosphorus. This makes the N-type semiconductor.

The reason this works is that silicon is a Group 4 element on the periodic table. The other elements are one group above, and one group below. This is called “doping,” and isn’t all that different than what athletes get caught for in the Olympics.

This doping allows for more free electrons on one crystal, and more “holes” where electrons are missing in the other. This relationship allows for the movement of electrons as photons knock them around when they hit the silicon.

Everything else in the panel is set up to move electrons back to their starting position, which creates a circuit for the electrons to flow in. That flow creates electricity. It’s only possible if photons knock those electrons free on the n-type material, pushing them over to the p-type one.

How Do Solar Panels Work? Now You Know

So, how do solar panels work? Now that you know the answer in basic terms you can impress installers and friends around you with the answers. Hopefully, in a way that you don’t need a degree in order to understand.

Do you still have more questions? We have answers with in-depth articles about solar power and other tech and home advice. Keep browsing to find out all you need to know!

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