How Do Solar Panels Work?

Written by in Solar 101

Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is an outgrowth of the semiconductor industry and is used in everything from calculators to solar energy systems for homes and businesses. The technology is based upon solar cells made from a semiconductor material such as silicon, which create electricity through a solid-state chemical reaction when light shines on them. Individual cells are connected in a module, or panel, and the panels are hooked together in a system that is installed on a rooftop or a freestanding frame. The energy the cells produce is converted from DC to AC current by an inverter.

Most solar PV systems are connected to the utility grid, enabling the owner to draw power from the grid at times when the sun is not available, and to sell excess power during peak sunlight hours back to the utility. (An alternative to this is the use of batteries to store excess power, but this is not always the most cost-effective or viable solution.)

A PV system includes:

  • PV panels (also known as modules, these are groups of PV cells).
  • A charge regulator
  • The inverter to transform direct current to alternating current
  • Wiring
  • Hardware for mounting the modules
  • Some installations include motorized tracking devices that allow the unit to turn as the sun moves throughout the day

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