Solar panels generate electricity from sunlight, a renewable and infinite energy source. They do this by absorbing photons (particles of light) that bounce off the sun and careen through its layers before reaching earth. When absorbed, these photons knock electrons loose from the semiconductor material in your panel and create electrical current. The process is known as the photovoltaic effect.
The semiconductor used in solar panels is silicon, one of the most abundant elements on our planet. During the manufacturing process, raw silicon chunks are isolated from other impurities and melted into ingots with special attention given to proper atomic orientation. Boron and phosphorus are then added to each ingot to enhance its conductivity. Two layers of these boron- and phospherus-treated wafers are placed on top of each other to form the solar cells in your panels. The result is a powerful energy-generating battery that can power your home and more.
Shining a Light on Solar Panels: Understanding the Basics and Benefits
Aside from the silicon, solar panels are comprised of an insulative layer and a metal frame. They’re also covered with a layer of anti-reflective glass to protect the delicate silicon and keep sunlight flowing through. Most panels are fixed to your roof at a 30- or 45-degree angle to the sun for maximum efficiency. Some people also choose to install tracking mounts so their solar array can follow the sun throughout the day.
Solar systems are considered a clean form of energy because they don’t produce greenhouse gases and other pollutants when burned to generate electricity like conventional fossil fuels do. In addition, solar panels have a small carbon footprint as they are made from materials that are becoming increasingly recycled.