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How does Solar Energy Work?

Solar panels, otherwise known as solar modules, are made up of layers of silicon cells within a metal frame and casing unit. Wiring within a solar module transports electrical current from the silicon cells. The element Silicon is grouped with nonmetals and exhibits conductive traits that help to efficiently uptake and convert energy from sunlight into usable electricity. As sunlight bounces off of the silicon cells, the energy within the sunlight sets electrons within the silicon cells in motion, which results in the flow of electric current. This phenomenon is called the ‘photovoltaic effect’. The photovoltaic effect is at the core of our ability to harness sunlight and convert it into usable electricity via solar panels.

The photovoltaic effect was theorized in 1839 by French physicist Edmond Becquerel. Becquerel discovered that specific groups of materials known as ‘semiconductors’ have the ability to harness sunlight and convert it into electricity.

The process in which the photovoltaic effect converts sunlight into electricity is broadly summarized in three steps:

  • Silicon contains photovoltaic cells that are conducive to the absorption of solar radiation.
  • As solar radiation is absorbed within the silicon cells, electrons become energized and move around resulting in a flow of electrons.
  • Conductive wires within the solar panel transport the energized electrons as direct current (DC) electricity to a solar inverter that converts the current into alternating current (AC) electricity.

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