What Is a Solar Panel?
A solar panel consists of a group of photovoltaic cells linked together. As their name suggests, these cells convert light (“photo”) into electricity (“voltaic”).
Each photovoltaic cell is like a sandwich made with two slices of semiconducting material, which is usually silicon. In its pure crystalline form, silicon is not a good conductor of electricity. That’s why the silicon layers in a photovoltaic cell have impurities added to them to give each layer a different charge.
Phosphorus gets added to the top layer of silicon to give it a negative charge. Likewise, boron gets added to the bottom layer to give it a positive charge. These opposing charges create an electric field between the layers of silicon.
When arranged together in a solar panel, the photovoltaic cells just need sunlight to work. As small particles of light, known as photons, hit the photovoltaic cells, they knock electrons free, creating a flow of electricity.
Metal plates attached to the sides of the photovoltaic cells transfer the flowing electrons to wires, which direct the flow of electricity like any other source of power. For example, those wires can be connected to a machine that will use the electricity. Alternatively, the wires could be connected to a battery that will store the electricity for use at a later time.