Solar Explained

How does solar energy work?

Energy from the sun is harnessed by photovoltaic cells, otherwise known as solar cells.

What are photovoltaic cells?

Photovoltaic (PV) cells are comprised of a semiconductor material. There are three basic types of PV cells:

  • Monocrystalline photovoltaic cells are cut from a single crystal of silicon and have a smooth texture. They are the most efficient production scale solar cells for absorbing sunlight and creating electricity but are also the most expensive to produce. Monocrystalline cells are rigid and must be mounted to a frame.
  • Polycrystalline photovoltaic cells are the most common type of panels on the market. These cells are cut from a block of silicon and have a large number of smaller crystals with a speckled reflective appearance. They are slightly less efficient but more cost-effective than monocrystalline cells. Polycrystalline cells also need to be mounted to a rigid frame.
  • Thin film photovoltaic cells are manufactured by putting a thin film of solar reactive material onto a variety of surfaces. They are the least efficient and least expensive to produce. They can be made from various materials.

How do solar photovoltaic cells work?

The sun’s rays shine down onto panels of PV cells, otherwise known as solar panels, which begins the energy harnessing process:

  • Particles of sunlight known as photons hit PV panels and are absorbed by the silicon found within the panels.
  • Photons knock electrons loose from their atoms causing an electrical potential difference.
  • Current flows through the panels to cancel the potential charge difference, which in turn is captured as direct current (DC) The semi-conductive properties of the silicon allow the current to flow in one direction only.
  • The electricity is harnessed as DC electricity and converted by an inverter into alternating current (AC) electricity and fed into the power grid for local consumption.