Solar panels are now a common sight. All around the UK you can see them installed on people’s roofs. These are photovoltaic, or PV, solar panels, which convert sunlight into electricity.
If you’re thinking about installing PV solar panels, or even have them already, it’s helpful to know about solar power, panels and cells.
As it’s British Science Week, we thought we’d take the opportunity to tell you a bit about PV solar panels and how they work.
When was solar power invented?
The photoelectric effect was first noted in 1839, by a French physicist called Edmund Bequerel. He discovered that some materials produce a small electric current when exposed to sunlight. In 1905, Albert Einstein built on Bequerel’s work by describing the nature of light and the photoelectric effect. Both men’s work provided the basis of solar power technology today.
What’s a solar panel?
A solar panel consists of lots of solar cells. These are small devices that convert sunlight into electricity. Solar cells don’t produce much electricity on their own, but joined together in a solar panel they produce much more.
Photovoltaic solar panels were developed during the mid-1900s and were first used on space crafts in the 1960s. As technology improved the panels became smaller and cheaper. Today solar panels are affordable and widely available for domestic use.
How do solar cells work?
Every solar cell contains two silicon layers that sit on top of each other. These two layers have been specially treated so that the electrons in the top silicon layer want to move to the bottom silicon layer. When sunlight lands on a solar cell, it gives the electrons energy to move. The movement of the electrons from the top silicon layer to the bottom layer generates electricity.
Once the electricity has been generated, it needs channelling through an inverter. This changes it from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current). Once it’s changed to AC, the electricity that the cells in your solar panels produce will be able to power appliances in your home.
So now you should know a bit more about solar panels and how they work. If you’re considering installing solar panels and want to learn more about them, we can help. For information on the pros and cons of different installation sizes, take a look at our articles on 1kW, 2kW, 3kW and 4kW systems. And to find out more about the financial benefits of solar panels, see our article on why it’s time to go solar in 2017.