How Do Solar Panels Work and Can They Be Used to Satisfy The World’s Electrical Needs?

how do solar panels work

With the rising cost of fossil fuels, not to mention the greenhouse effect you hear about in the news almost every day, many people are looking to solar energy to offset the cost of utilities, plus help our planet survive for generations to come. When we look at fossil fuels we find that approximately 66% of the world’s population uses the fuels electrical power, and they provide 95% of the total energy demands of the planet. Heady numbers indeed. Many homeowners are looking towards solar panels as cost-effective alternatives to the normal methods that electricity is generated and distributed. When we speak of solar panels, we’re talking of panels that convert solar energy from our sun into electrical energy they can run the appliances in our home and as technology advances, the vehicles we drive. No doubt you’ve cash you’ve driven down the road, you’ve seen solar panels covering the roofs of buildings, and powering signs along the highways. Perhaps you’ve wondered, what exactly is going on inside and how do solar panels work?

How Do Solar Panels Work?

These questions are normal, and certainly relevant based on the rising cost of utilities; mainstream people, for many reasons are looking in earnest at alternative forms of energy, solar power being the primary one, this is no longer fringe science, but scientific fact

Let’s take a more detailed look inside solar panels, and understand just a bit how the technology functions. The technology is based on two separate types of heat collection from the sun; termed solar collectors, and solar cells. By and far the most common usage are solar cells, and this will be the focus of our article. These cells, traditionally known as solar cells, are actually photovoltaic cells. Multiple units make up a photovoltaic panel (termed solar panel) and it is this panel that actually generates electricity.

Don’t be intimidated by the word photovoltaic, when we look at the root of the word we see the following…

Photo = light and
Voltaic = electricity.

What’s happening is we are representing the concept of turning solar light, the very thing that turns night into day, into electricity that can be used in our homes cars and businesses. Photovoltaic cells, a scientific marvel, are comprised of a semiconductor (normally made of silicon); this is the same silicon technology that powers our computers.

When solar light hits these cells filled with silicon, the energy is absorbed, and a small electrical current is generated inside the solar cell. When we string multiple photovoltaic cells together inside a solar panel, then place contacts on the outside of the panel, we are able to utilize this electrical current for our needs. This is perhaps an over simplification of the process, but that is basically what is happening.

As the rays of the sun come down as warming sunshine, this light is converted into electrical energy, however at that moment it is not electricity we can utilize, not until a positive charge is introduced. This positive charge, which is generated by the element silicon, mixes with another element (typically boron) and it is this mixture that produces a positive charge.


A solar panel is any type of panel that makes effective use of the heat energy from the sun converting this sunshine into electricity that can be used in everyday life.


Solar panels are composed of solar cells, and it is these cells, that are responsible for turning sunshine, into electricity that we can use. The chemical elements inside the solar panel are silicon, vital for the function of the solar panels; it is this element that allows solar panels to convert solar energy into usable electricity

Now that we have a basic understanding of how solar panels operate, what’s the next step?

At such a time the solar panels are correctly wired and working together, the next step is to locate them in an area where the sun is shining strategically and the panels are exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight daily. For those of us looking into the idea of using solar panels at home, most people would locate their solar panels on the roof of their homes. It is vital that the installer, whether that is the do-it-yourself or a professional contractor situates the panel so they are absorbing the greatest amount of sunshine on a daily basis, and operate at peak efficiency.


For greatest efficiency, the angle of the solar panels should be adjusted throughout the year, based on the season and current position of the sun.


If you’re wondered about the sun and how daylight is converted into electricity, you’ll want to delve into the subject more a more complete understanding. For the purposes of this article, a particle from the sun called a photon is used. When these photons come in contact with the solar cell, some electrons are knocked off their carefully aligned orbits. When this happens, small electrical fields inside the solar cell are generated; luring (so to speak) these free electrons into an electrical current; mixing with the silicon and boron combination, the subsequent fusion is what actually generates electricity.

Once we’ve arrived at this point and generated and electrical current, we might feel the process is complete; however there is another step in the chain. The electricity generated is direct current (DC) and this energy must be changed to alternating current (AC) in order to power our appliances. For this to happen an inverter is introduced, which converts DC power into AC current. It is this type of current our household appliances require in order to function properly.

An additional step, while not mandatory, is functioning deep cycling batteries for electrical storage. While this may seem obvious, it is vital if the homeowner or business desires to utilize solar energy at night, or on cloudy days. This is almost always done by using deep cycling batteries; these batteries are designed to be fully charged and discharged, drawing small amounts of electricity as needed. This is different than a traditional car battery, where a strong amount of current is needed, but for a short period of time.

The next time you’re driving down the road, glance at a solar panel you may happen upon, you’ll notice there are multiple panels placed close together. On closer examination, you’ll likely see the individual photovoltaic cells that comprise each solar panel. If you’re considering solar panels in your home or business, study those you see and you’ll likely notice these panels have been maximized for exposure to the sun. The height, angle and placement should ideally take into consideration the seasons of the year, geographic location of the home or business, and the best strategic location for the panels to be located.

To completely understand the question, “how do solar panels work”, understand that the more solar cells contained within a solar panel, the more electricity produced. This is taking into consideration that these cells should come in direct contact with the sun, and be strategically located, and angled to catch as great a percentage of the sun’s rays as possible. Consideration should be given to nearby vegetation, buildings, and any other obstruction that might cast shadows. Any diminishment of the sun reaching the solar panels will decrease the overall electricity generated.

What was once considered science fiction, harnessing the power of the sun, while solar energy in its infancy, this power source as the potential to satisfy the world’s electrical needs. You should now have a more complete understanding about the question, “how do solar panels work“.