How Do Photovoltaic Cells Work?

If you follow alternative energy news, you might have heard that are already over 2 million solar panel systems installed just in the US. Of course, even people who follow alternative energy don’t always know everything about the technologies themselves.

For example, wind energy works by using the rotations from the blades to spin the internal workings of an electrical generator. What about solar energy, though? Solar energy depends on the work done by photovoltaic cells. Not familiar with photovoltaic cells?

Keep reading for our explanation to the question, “how do photovoltaic cells work?”

How Does Electricity Work?

Before photovoltaic cells will make sense, you need a basic understanding of how electricity works. If you dig back into those middle school and high school science classes, you’ll remember that your basic atom is made up of three things:

  • Protons
  • Neutron
  • Electrons

While neutrons and protons reside at the heart of an atom, the negatively charged electrons orbit the protons like satellite orbits the earth. With the right conditions, you can knock electrons loose from atoms and create a flow of them along a conductor. That’s electricity in a nutshell.

What is the Photovoltaic Effect?

The whole basis of solar power is that light carries energy. You typically see that energy in the form of heat as it gets warmer when the sun comes up. When light is at the right wavelength, though, it can give some of its energy to the atoms in semiconductor materials, like silicon.

Specifically, the energy goes to the electrons in the silicon atoms. The increased energy lets the electron jump to something called the conduction band. What it means in practice is that electrons can move around more freely in the semiconductor.

How Do Photovoltaic Cells Work?

Your basic photovoltaic cell is a kind of sandwich of materials. You get two layers of silicon known as P-type and N-Type, for positive and negative charges. Where these two layers meet is the P-N junction. When the light hits the top layer of silicon and makes electrons jump, they essentially jump to the P-N junction.

The cell is designed with electrical contacts that give the electrons a path to follow, which creates an electrical current. In solar panels, you get a bunch of these cells working together. For more information on how solar panels work, you can contact a local solar installer, such as Blue Raven Solar.

Solar Energy and You

The question of how do solar cells work takes you into some interesting areas of science. However, it’s really combining those cells into solar panels that make solar energy a viable energy option for homeowners and businesses.

Those solar panels let you access an energy source that otherwise goes untapped most of the time. Even better, you’re not taking anything away from nature. The energy you capture is only what would normally hit your roof on a given day.

Looking for more ways you can make your home more nature-friendly? Check out the posts in our Home/Lifestyle section.

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