How Do Solar Panels Work?

Ever wondered how solar panels actually work? We all know that they convert light into electricity – but have you ever stopped to wonder just how the heck that happens? Here I do my best to explain the inner functioning of a solar panel in plain English:

Here’s the Transcription if my Yorkshire/Aussie mongrel accent is too much to bear:

Hi I’m Finn Peacock, today I’m going to answer the question, “how do solar panels work?” A solar panel is made up of solar cells, the solar cell is the kind of beer matt sized black thing, black square, about 60 of which are put in a matrix to make up a solar panel.

Okay, so how does the solar cell turns sunlight into electricity? Well, in the solar cell you’ve got atoms, all atoms are surrounded by electrons. Sunlight hits the solar cell, it dislodges these electrons. When the electrons move (because they are dislodged by the sunlight,) they leave a hole. If there is a hole, there will be another electron that wants to fill that hole. So you get electrons moving into empty holes.

Now remember that electricity is the flow of electrons around a closed circuit. So, what we’ve created with the light is a flow of electrons into that empty hole. Now, all we do is we capture those electrons in a closed circuit using wires, and we’ve got a flow of electrons around the closed circuit – i.e. we’ve got electricity.

If you combine lots of these solar cells together, you create a solar panel. If you put lots of the solar panels together, you create what we call a solar array – and you can actually get an incredible amount of electricity just from the light shining on the panels from the sun.

The best solar panels at the moment will convert an amazing 20% of the energy in the sunlight into electricity. And that’s how a solar panel works, I think it’s amazing.

That’s the basics on how a solar panel works – learn more about the “photovoltaic effect”, or PV effect.

About Finn Peacock

I'm a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and founder of My last "real job" was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division.

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