Solar panels are an accessible form of technology that harnesses the power of the sun to create energy. Read here to learn more about the mechanics behind solar panels, before you decide on a new eco-friendly roof or another solar panel project for personal use.

Humans have sought varying methods to harness the power of the sun to heat their homes, provide electrical power, and reduce dependency on fuels that release carbon emissions. If you are curious about how do solar panels work, it is essential first to respect how much energy the sun releases onto our planet.

Solar Panels fall under two distinct categories.

  • Mono-crystalline
  • Poly-crystalline
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Mono-crystalline solar panels are more efficient at converting the sun's energy into electricity and are more expensive. Poly-crystalline solar panels are another available option, but they are less expensive.

If you are curious about outfitting your home or business with solar panels, so you can take advantage of the sun's energy, you will want first to decide if you're going to use monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels.

It is vital to know how do solar panels work when selecting the most cost-efficient and energy efficient model for your budget and lifestyle needs.

History Of Solar Panels

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To answer how do solar panels work, you first need to look at history and early scientific discoveries of sunlight being converted to electrical energy.

Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered in 1839 that the light of the sun could create a photovoltaic effect.  When Alexandre immersed an electrode in a conductive solution, and the electrode had sunlight shining on it, an electric current would develop.

Unfortunately, even though the science world knew about the photovoltaic effect, people would not be able to take advantage of solar cells just yet to capture the sun's energy. In 1941, Russell Ohl, who was working for Bell Labs, developed the solar cell.

Later in 1954, Bell Labs released the first commercial photovoltaic cells, and in 1956 they made solar cells for the general public's consumption. However, the initial cost for solar cells was incredibly expensive and limited accessibility.

Eventually, the cost of solar panels came down, which encouraged their use for generating clean energy.

Solar panels are beneficial as a sustainable power source because of the following factors.

  • They have a long lifespan and are a reliable energy producer
  • They are easy to install and are low-maintenance
  • Solar panels do not emit any pollution during operation
  • They are easy to transport to remote locations and can distribute electricity over great distances

Solar panels may also be referred to as PV panels. The way panels convert sunlight into electrical energy, requires the use of the Photovoltaic Effect.

Panels are made with layers of individual cells, which are composed of silicon, phosphorus, and boron. Phosphorus creates a negative charge and boron creates a positive charge. When sunlight hits the surface of the solar panels, electrons can be collected and funneled into the electric field generated by the solar cells to create a current.

Concentrated Solar Power, or CSP, is used for solar heating.

Solar panels are effective at running water heaters, air conditioners, and other appliances. The panels are capable of working without being hit directly by sunlight, and often have a backup battery for the system.

Most solar panels are available in 200 or 250-watts and produce about eight to ten kilowatts per square foot. The average home has plenty of space on the roof to place enough solar panels to provide sufficient energy for daily needs.

Install Your Own Solar Panels: Designing and Installing a Photovoltaic...
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  • Burdick, Joseph (Author)
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Real Life Applications Of Solar Panels

Solar panels have come a long way regarding application, design, cost, and accessibility.

China is a leader in manufacturing and implementing solar panels compared to other nations. According to sources, rooftops to produce electricity on the planet, with Japan, Germany, and other countries falling behind.

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Solar panels are useful for powering trains, cars, buses, and other forms of transit for goods and people.  China has begun using buses that rely on solar power, while solar cars maintain their presence in competitions for technological innovation. Solar energy has been used to fly aircraft, such as the Solar Impulse 2.

Portable Technology

If you enjoy being outdoors or are frequently on the go, having a solar-powered charger on hand is excellent for numerous gadgets. There are solar powered flashlights, chargers for cell phones, and even wearable devices.


When you have a home, it is helpful to place lighting strategically to illuminate your property for safety and visual appeal. Instead of relying on traditional lighting indoors and out, it is beneficial to switch to solar powered lights that are wireless and energy efficient. As a bonus, it is useful to install energy efficient bulbs for lower energy costs and a reduced carbon footprint.

Heating And Cooling

Solar panels are not available only to capture sunlight while on rooftops to produce electricity but can be used to power water heaters or air conditioners.  Instead of stressing out the aged electric-grid, tapping into the power of the sun with solar panels can actively or passively heat pools, create heat, or circulate water.

Photovoltaics: Design and Installation Manual
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Embracing Sustainable Energy

The lifespan of solar panels is typically 25 years and can be rented or owned. Keep in mind; solar panels can quickly pay for themselves in as little as two years if you have a lot of sun exposure. Also, rented solar panels may come with a package deal where they receive routine maintenance to ensure optimal function and efficiency.

Utilizing solar panels for energy needs is becoming more widespread as people see the tremendous benefits. Once the cost of an installation has been paid off, the energy produced by solar panels is pretty much free of charge.

Some homeowners may be excited at the prospect of selling back energy to the electric company, and being rid of recurring electric bills. If a homeowner installs solar panels and uses less energy than they need than any excess power is up for profits.

As a way of encouraging people to install more solar panels and take advantage of eco-friendly sustainable energy, in the United States, there are tax credits and incentives.

Thanks to the widespread embrace of solar panels and other forms of sustainable energy, many neighborhoods, towns, and cities are racing to become powered on nearly 100% sustainable sources.

Solar Electricity Handbook - 2018 Edition: A Simple, Practical Guide...
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  • English (Publication Language)
  • 186 Pages - 01/13/2018 (Publication Date) - Greenstream Publishing (Publisher)

Installing Solar Panels

Before deciding to install solar panels on the roof of your home, you will want to conduct a thorough assessment of your energy needs. You should also consider the landscape and prune away any foliage that would prove disruptive to the sun reaching your panels.

It is common for homeowners to have photovoltaic panels installed for personal use. Finding certified installers of thermal solar technology can be challenging.

Depending on how you're connected to the energy grid and state laws, it would be prudent to see how easy or challenging it will be to receive reimbursement for installation costs. Also, state laws should be screened regarding the time frame and rules about money paid to solar panel owners for excess energy. Individual states may make it harder for a homeowner to make their money back in a timely fashion.

When selecting solar panels from a certified and trusted manufacturer, one should consider whether they want to outright buy the solar panels with a lengthy warranty and package deal, or rent.

Renting solar panels may be a better financial decision, as maintenance services are typically offered routinely by the company. Homeowners need to consider the cost of other accessories or parts that will be required to utilize the power generated from solar panels. Replacements and repairs may be required which should be factored into a solar panel budget.


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Luckily, if solar panels are installed outside and get a little rain now and then, they are pretty self-cleaning. However, some owners of solar panels may be interested in detailed maintenance options to encourage the longevity of their panels.

Depending on how solar panels are tilted, dust and debris can build up over time. If panels are covered with stray leaves, bird excrement, or other materials, it can impact how optimally solar panels are doing their job.

Safety is an essential factor when cleaning solar panels, so it is vital to follow all necessary steps to shut down the system. There is no need to risk getting electrocuted, or somehow damage the panels by attempting to clean them while they are in operation.

It is ideal to clean solar panels when the sky is more overcast, or at a time when the sun is not shining strongly overhead. Also, it is safer and more effective to clean panels at the ground level, unless you have a certified service tech coming through to maintain your panels.

Ideally, you will want to take a soft cloth or brush to remove any visible debris on dry panels gingerly. Harsh products that can scratch the surface of the panels should be avoided at all costs. Detergents can risk putting streaks on the panels, which can dampen performance.

Swabbing down panels with a squeegee and giving them a rinse with a hose is sufficient, provided the water is not too hard, which could lead to unwanted mineral deposits and buildup.

Provided that your solar panels and necessary parts are in good condition, and routine maintenance is conducted, solar panels should provide clean energy for decades.

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