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Photovoltaic Panels – how do they work?

As the cost of photovoltaic panels have decreased significantly in the last number years following major improvements in technology, manufacturing and installation costs, homeowners across the island of Ireland look to solar now as a truly worthwhile form of alternative energy. As photovoltaic panels enter the mainstream, the big question is, “how do solar photovoltaic panels actually work?” In this article, we at EcoPlex will break down exactly how they produce energy for your home and how worthwhile the switch really is! Contact us if you wish to find out more!

Solar cells are usually made with silicon. This is a semiconductor which generates electricity, a process known as the “photovoltaic effect”.

In short, photovoltaic panels generate electricity when particles of sunlight hit electrons free from their atoms, setting in motion a stream of electrons. This stream of electrons is in fact the electricity, and photovoltaic panels are designed to capture this stream, converting it to a usable electric current.

Photovoltaic power generation commences as soon as photovoltaic panels absorb rays of sunlight through photovoltaic cells, generating this direct current energy and then converting it to  alternating current energy, the usable kind. This is aided, of course, by the latest inverter technology that EcoPlex carries. Alternating current energy then flows through the home’s electrical panel and is distributed. If you want to find out more about the difference between AC and DC click here. 

The main steps for how photovoltaic panels work are as follows:

  • Photovoltaic cells absorb sunlight and convert it to direct current electricity (DC).
  • The solar inverter converts this direct current  from your solar modules to alternating current. This means you can use it for your regular appliances like a kettle, TV, electric shower, etc. 
  • Electricity flows throughout your property, powering electronic devices.
  • Excess electricity produced by solar panels is fed to the electric grid or are stored in solar batteries for future use. 

How do photovoltaic panels generate electricity? 

The usual photovoltaic panel consists of a layer of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass shell, and a network of wiring to allow current to flow from the silicon cells. Silicon is a nonmetal with semiconductive properties. This allows it to collect the energy that sunlight produces. When sunlight interacts with a silicon cell, it starts a reaction with electrons, initiating a flow of direct current. This is best known as the “photovoltaic effect,” which is where photovoltaic panels get their name from. This is then converted to alternating current. 

The Photovoltaic Effect

The science behind the generation of electricity with solar panels all comes down to the photovoltaic effect. First discovered in 1839 by French physicist Edmond Becquerel, the photovoltaic effect can be generally thought of as a characteristic semiconductors like silicon that allow them to generate an electric current when exposed to sunlight.

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