Solar Panels: How They Work

March 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Panels

By now most people know something about solar panels, and have seen the grid-like flat panel arrays set up on the roof of a structure somewhere. Everyone realizes that they collect sunlight to be converted to energy. But how do they really work?

Believe it or not, solar panels have been around since the early 1950s. At that time, scientists at Bell Telephone discovered that when silicon was exposed to sunlight, an electric charge was created. Silicon was later used within photovoltaic cells, which are used in solar panels. In the most basic terms, photo means light, while voltaic means energy. Light is turned into energy. The cells absorb sunlight energy when it hits the cells, and then that energy is drained off via metal contacts within the cell. Many cells arranged next to one another comprise a system which makes up the solar panel. The higher the quantity or quality of cells, the more energy can be generated.

Another very important factor regarding the efficiency of solar panels is insolation. Insolation is the quantity of solar radiation that the panel receives. Many things can potentially effect the insolation of solar panels. One is uninterrupted exposure to direct sunlight. If there are any obstructions to the sunlight your panels receive, such as foliage, the shade of a nearby structure, or cloudy weather, the insolation of the solar panels will decrease along with their efficiency. The location where you live directly effects insolation. For example, the Southwest region of the United States has a significantly higher insolation index than the Central or Southeast regions. So if you live in the Southwest, a solar panel system will be much more efficient than if you live in the Southeast.

For maximum efficiency of your solar panel system, make sure the panels point directly to the sun and that there are no obstructions to the sun’s exposure. The position and angle of the panels actually have a significant effect on the quantity of energy that can be collected. Rotating mounts are a great investment to increase the efficiency of your solar panel system, as they allow the panels to track the sun’s path. If sunlight is continually shining directly onto the panel, it will reach optimal effectiveness.

If you’ve considered installing a solar panel system, plan out the logistics carefully for the maximum return on your investment. Where you put them is very important. It is common to see solar panels on the roof because of the convenience. However, if the roof does not face south, it might not be the place to put your panels. You actually don’t even have to install them directly onto your house. You can look into ground panel or pole mounted options for your yard. As long as your panels receive maximum sunlight, they will collect the most energy that they possibly can.

The solar revolution of the past few decades has made solar energy an increasing force in the energy arena. Solar panels convert light into energy, resulting in clean, renewable energy from the sun.