Solar Energy: How It Works

A picture of solar panels

Solar energy is energy that is derived from radiant heat and light from the sun. To harness solar energy, you have to use solar energy technologies which either directly convert light from the sun into electricity or which use the heat (thermal) energy from the sun to drive turbines, or provide hot water and air heating and conditioning.


Solar energy belongs in the renewable energy category, meaning that it is not depleted and can be reused and repurposed for many different uses.  In this article, we will cover how solar energy works, its uses, facts and misconceptions.


How Solar Energy Works


To understand how solar energy works, we need to look at the process of the conversion of solar energy into a form that is beneficial to human beings in their homes for purposes such as electricity. For that reason, we will look at the process in the context of a solar panel which basically converts solar energy into electricity.


How Solar Panels Convert Sunlight Into Electricity


Let’s look at the structure of the solar panel.

Each panel is made up of a layer of silicon solar cells, also referred to as photovoltaic cells, which absorb sunlight during the day when placed on a rooftop or an outdoor area. The solar panel is also made up of a glass casing which has a special film surrounding, wiring and  metal frame which protects the internal components from heat and mechanical tensions and also provides attachment points for mounting. 


The Role of the Solar Cells


The role of the solar cells is to generate an electric current through the actions of electrons and an electric field. Let’s break it down.


Each solar cell contains two silicone layers which form a thin semiconductor wafer. These two silicone layers have different charges, with one layer being positively charged and the other layer being negatively charged. The positively charged layer is referred to as the p-type silicon layer (p stands for positive) while the negatively charged layer is referred to as the n-type silicon layer (n stands for negative).


The difference in charges between the two layers creates an electric field. When light from the sun strikes a solar cell, electrons in the silicone are ejected and they flow leading to the production of an electric current.


Direct Current Is Generated


The electric current that the solar cell generates is referred to as direct current. Direct current has a lot of applications, but it’s not the preferred energy for home use. For usage in homes, it is important to convert direct current (DC) to a home-friendly form referred to as alternating current (AC).


Fortunately, you are not required to handle this conversion process. Inverters which come with solar panels do the job of converting the direct current to alternating current which you can use in your home. 

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