British Science Week: Find Out How Solar Panels Work

March 7th, 2017

Nowadays, solar panels are a common sight. You can see them installed on people’s roofs all around the UK. These are photovoltaic, or PV, solar panels, which convert sunlight into electricity.

If you’re thinking about installing PV solar panels or even already have them, it is handy to know about solar power, panels and cells.

As it is British Science Week, we thought we’d take the chance to give you a bit of info about PV solar panels and how they operate.

When was solar power invented?

The photoelectric effect was first noticed by French physicist Edmund Bequerel in the 1830s. He discovered that some materials create a small electric charge when the sunlight hits them. In the early 1900s, Albert Einstein developed Bequerel’s findings by describing the nature of the photoelectric effect. Both men’s studies formed the basis of solar technology today.

What’s a solar panel?

A solar panel is made of lots of solar cells. These are tiny devices that convert sunlight into electricity. Solar cells aren’t particularly useful on their own but joined together in a solar panel they can make a significant amount of electricity.

Photovoltaic solar panels were developed in the mid-20th century and were initially used in the 1960s on space crafts. As technologies improved the panels became smaller and cheaper. Today solar panels are reasonably priced and suitable for domestic use.

How do solar cells work?

Every solar cell includes two silicon layers that lay on top of each other. These two layers are treated so that the electrons in the top silicon layer want to move to the bottom silicon layer. When sunlight comes into contact with a solar cell, it gives the electrons power to move. The movement of the electrons from the top to the bottom layer generates electricity.

Solar cell diagram from

After the electricity has been generated, it should be channelled through an inverter. This alters it from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current). As soon as it’s changed to AC, the electricity can be used to power your property.

So now you should know a little more about solar panels and how they work. If you’re thinking about buying solar panels and want to find out more about them, we can help. Have a look at our information on the solar panel Feed-in Tariff scheme and why you should get solar panels sooner rather than later.

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