How Photovoltaic Cells Work

Jessica PirroMay 24, 20191680

Most people see solar panels on rooftops in their neighborhoods and don’t really think much about how they produce energy. The photovoltaic solar cells has a special technology that makes it possible for the panels to convert the energy from the sun to energy to power your house.

There are three steps to produce solar energy

There are three general steps that the photovoltaic cells will take to convert the sunlight to usable energy.

  1. The Light is absorbed and knocks electrons loose
  2. The loose electrons flow, which creates a current
  3. The current us then captured and transferred to the wires

The photovoltaic effect is essentially a little more complicated process, but these are really the three core steps that you will need to take to convert the sun’s energy into electricity from the solar cells.

The solar cells are the core to a solar panel

There are six different components to a solar panel. But what is typically considered the most important component, is the photovoltaic cell, which the component of the panel that actually generates the electricity.

The process of converting the sunlight to electricity by a solar cell is called the “photovoltaic effect”, which is the reason that solar cells are often referred to as photovoltaic.

The Photovoltaic cells absorb the sunlight and use the lights energy to create an electrical current, which is how the cells generate electricity. There are a lot of photovoltaic cells in a single solar panel. The current that is created by all of the photovoltaic cells on a single solar panel, in unison adds up to be just enough electricity to aid in powering your house.

The typical solar panel that is used for a typical residential home install is, will have about 60 different cells that are linked together. For a typical commercial solar panel installation, the installer will typically use larger solar panels with at least 72 photovoltaic cells latching to each other.

Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline cells

The most common solar cells that are used in both residential and commercial solar panel installation are monoctrystalline and polycrystalline cells. There are other options, like thin-film cells or organic solar cells, but they are not nearly as common as monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells.

Monocrystalline panels

Monocrystalline is the oldest kind, and it used to be the number one choice when panels were installed on roofs. They have the highest efficiency rates and require the least amount of space.

They will also last a lot longer than other panels, and even though panels get 25-year warranties generally, these types of panels will most likely outlive that lifespan. Unlike most panels, they also increase in their efficiency when it’s hotter outside. The biggest disadvantage to these panels is that they are the most expensive.

Polycrystalline panels

Polycrystalline is a cheaper but less efficient version of the monocrystalline panels. The efficiency is only slightly lower, though, which is why most solar installations now have polycrystalline panels. Most people would prefer a cheaper panel with a slightly lower efficiency.

The amount of waste produced by polycrystalline is also much less than the amount of waste produced by monocrystalline panels, meaning it’s also the greener option. The first disadvantage is that they’re less efficient, being around 14-16% compared to monocrystalline’s 22%.

They also have a lower heat tolerance than monocrystalline, meaning if it gets too hot outside, they could begin to fail. They also take up more space and are the least aesthetically pleasing to look at.

The electricity generation process

The photovoltaic solar cells absorb the sunlight and generate flowing electricity through the photovoltaic effect. Depending on the type of solar technology that is used. But the three steps are common for all photovoltaic cells.

  1. The Light is absorbed and knocks the electrons loose.

The light hits the photovoltaic cells and it is then absorbed by the semiconducting material that is typically made from silicon. The light energy causes the electrons that are in the silicon to be knocked loose, that is what will eventually becomes the solar electricity that is used in your house.

  1. The loose electrons flow, which creates a current

In photovoltaic cells there are two layers of silicon that is used. Each layer is treated special, or ‘doped’, in order to create an electric field. When you hear the word ‘doped’ it means that one side has a net positive charge and the other side has a negative charge. This positive/negative charge causes the loose electrons to flow in one direction through the solar cells, which generates an electrical current.

  1. The current us then captured and transferred to the wires

One the electrical current is generated by the loose electrons, the metal plates on each side of the solar cell, collects those electrons and then transfer them to wires. By this step, the electrons are flowing as electricity through the wiring to a solar inverter, which then converts the direct current (DC) energy that is created by the solar panels, to alternating current (AC) energy that is used to power your home, once that process is done the electricity is then sent to power your home.

Photovoltaic cells produce electricity for your home

A photovoltaic cell, by itself can’t produce enough usable electricity for anything more than a small electronic gadget. In order for the panels to produce enough energy that a house might need, all of the solar cells are wired together to create solar panels, and they are installed in groups to form a solar energy system. A residential solar panel with 60 photovoltaic cells that are combined and can produce anywhere between 220 and 400 watts of power.

There are a few factors that determines on how many watts of power the panels will produce, panels such as temperatures, house of sunlight and electricity use. Each property owner should know that each property needs a varying amount of solar panels to produce enough energy for their house.

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