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Solar Panels – How Do They Work?

Publish Date: March 29th, 2017

Solar panels or modules are a key component of every solar array, since they are what convert sunlight into electricity! But how exactly do they do that? 

Every panel is made up of many individual solar cells, which are linked together to increase their power-producing potential. Most of these cells are made up of two layers of silicon, sandwiched between conductive material. One layer of silicon has extra electrons (making it negatively charged), and the other has extra holes for electrons to move into (making it positively charged).

Light is made up of photon particles, and when these hit the silicon cell with enough energy, they knock electrons loose. The now-mobile electrons are picked up by the conductive material surrounding the silicon, forming an electric current. This electricity flows from solar cells to your inverter, which converts output DC power into the AC power your home and the electrical grid can use.

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The electrons return to their original spots once they have completed their circuit, meaning nothing in the system gets used up. Because electrons are the only moving part of solar arrays, modules don't wear out quickly like other types of electronics, so they can last decades with only minor reductions in power output.

You might have heard about the efficiency of solar panels; the panels Namasté Solar uses range from about 18-22% efficient, because the cost of higher efficiency panels is usually prohibitive except for military or space applications. There are many reasons cells are not 100% efficient in converting sunlight into electricity: sunlight could be reflected instead of absorbed, for example, or dislodged electrons could fall back into place before going through the circuit, meaning the energy of those photons is lost. 

But don't fret – even though those percentages seem low, you could still partially or completely offset your electricity usage, depending on available sunny space, typical consumption, and your project budget. And since solar modules are so durable and long-lasting, a solar system is a great investment!

More information about solar modules can be found in articles by NASA and Live Science.

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