How Do Solar Panels Work? ☀️

3 min read

Morning photons!

The Earth gets roughly 173,000,000,000,000,000 Watts of energy from the sun all day long.

(That's like 10 times more power than all of humanity currently uses).

But, how can we convert all that energy into useful stuff like electricity?

Well, a whole lot of these:

But how do solar panels magically turn sunlight into electricity to power your toaster?

It’s not magic, it's science!

Basically, solar panels are made up of a bunch of smaller units called solar cells.

These solar cells are generally made from silicon.

A semiconductor that is the second most abundant element on earth.

(Also the name of some valley in California.)

Now, in a solar cell, this silicon is sandwiched between 2 layers of conductive material.

Making a delicious silicon sandwich.

Durd, don't eat that…

Looking a bit closer at the contents of this sandwich.

Inside the silicon, we can see that each atom of silicon is connected to its neighbors by four really strong bonds.

This keeps the electrons of those atoms in place.

Here’s the key:

A silicon solar cell is made up of 2 different layers of silicon.

One at the top, called N-type silicon. (Which has extra electrons)

And one at the bottom, called P-type silicon. (Which has extra spaces for electrons called holes)

This creates a positive charge on one side and a negative charge on the other.

This means that when a light particle called a photon comes flying out from the sun.

It smashes into the silicon cell, which can knock an electron from its bond.

Leaving a hole.

And because of the electric field, the displaced electron flows up to the top.

And the hole jumps down to the bottom.

These displaced electrons are then collected and flow through the conductor into an electrical circuit.

And tada, your toaster is now powered!

Stay Cute,
Reece, Henry & Dylan 🌈

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