How Do Solar Panels Create Electricity?

The way that electricity is created from the light of the sun is quite a fascinating one. It's completely different to the way that this happens normally, through conventional power plants. Actually it's different from the way any renewable energy sources create electricity as well.

Conventional Electricity Production

One way that electricity can be made is through by way of a spinning electromagnet. We won't go in to why that is now, you'll just have to take that much on faith, or look it up. So what most power plants do is cause electromagnets spin, which they do by making turbines spin.

So the normal way that turbines are made to spin is with steam. The steam from heated water causes the turbines, and so the electromagnet, to spin. Now the challenge is to heat the water. That's usually done by burning fossil fuels, like coal or oil for instance. However that's not ideal because by doing that, CO2 is released in to the atmosphere, which causes global warming of course.

So it's much better for the environment if a clean source of energy is used instead. Most of those also work by having turbines spinning. Whether it's the power of the wind that spins them, the changes in tides, or whatever else, most renewable energy sticks to the idea of spinning turbines.

It's very much different when solar power is being considered though.

How Do Solar Cells Generate Electricity?

Now, do you know what electricity really is? It's the flow of electrons through some conductive material. So instead of getting an electromagnet involved, solar cells go right for the source, they make electrons flow just from the power of light.

A special substance is necessary to be able to do this, something called a semiconductor. This is something which, when light hits it, causes electrons to move out of their orbit. They go free. So we are already half way there just by using this sort of substance.

Just because electrons are moving though, that doesn't mean that they are going to move where we want them to. So we have to be a bit more tricky to make sure that this happens.

The way that solar cells are constructed, is that each of them has two halves. One of them is charged positively, and the other is charged negatively. They're put together, and a balance is achieved between them. What happens when light hits, causing electrons to go from one half to the other though, is that this balance is disrupted.

This disruption in the balance is very useful because when something is out of balance, it means that it is ready to move. So the electrons are ready to move again. Only this time we can control where they go, because we open up a way out for them, somewhere they can go where balance will be restored. As it happens, this is a wire that takes them to the house that is being powered. So that's how the electricity gets there.

As with any arduous journey though, it's never quite over when you expect it to be. So the electricity still has to go through a couple of more stages. First of all, it has to be stored. That way it can be released as and when you need it, rather than when the sun is the brightest.

Additionally, it comes out of the solar panels in the wrong form. It comes out as DC, which is not useful for us because all electrical appliances actually run on AC. It's a simple task to convert the direct current in to alternating current though, it just requires an inverter. And now the energy from the sun is finally ready to power your home.

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