Sidebar Menu

How Do Solar Cells Work?

An introduction to how pv solar cells work and why?

What Are Photovoltaic Solar Cells?

Solar cells are (more or less) what solar panels are made of. They are those small rectangular (or octagonal) shapes you see on the face of a solar panel. You can learn about the different solar panel types available by clicking here to go to the "Types of Solar Panels" section.

But how do solar cells work?

Solar cells work by capturing the sun's radiant energy and turning it into DC (direct current) electricity we can use in our homes. When a solar panel is making energy, it's really the solar cells doing all the hard work.

Solar cells are often referred to as "photovoltaic solar cells".

This is because the word "photo" comes from the Greek word for "light", and the word "voltaic" refers to electricity pioneer Alessandro Volta. You can learn more about the history of solar energy by clicking here to visit the "History of Solar Energy" section of our website.

What Are Solar Cells Made Of?

Before we get more into how solar technology works, let's get a little more familiar with solar cells and what they're made of.

Photovoltaic solar cells are flat rectangular (or octagonal) shaped pieces of silicone (commonly made from sand). They are usually bluish black in color and have tiny wires running through them.

Silicone is what's known as a "semiconductor". This means it can conduct electricity, but only under certain conditions. And in this case, these conditions are "exposure to the radiant energy that exists in sunlight".

PV Solar Cell Construction

Solar cells are constructed of an upper layer of silicone containing negatively charged electrons (n-type) and a bottom layer of silicone containing positively charged electrons (p-type).

When the sun's light (photons) hit these photovoltaic solar cells, electrons are released from the bottom layer of silicone and jump across to the upper layer of silicone causing current to flow and thus creating energy.

The more light that shines on these cells, the more electrons that jump up and the more energy that is produced. This is how solar cells work to continuously produce energy, but only when exposed to light.

How Solar Cells Work To Power Your Home

Solar cells collect and convert energy from the atmosphere. By using wires, the energy occurring in the solar cell is then led to a circuit and utilized to power appliances, electronics or anything else that runs on electricity. You can learn more about the type of wire used in photovoltaic systems by clicking here to visit the "Solar Wire Types" section of our website.

Since each solar cell produces a few volts of electricity, connecting many solar cells together can multiply the power generated by the number of cells used.

The entire collection of photovoltaic solar cells constitutes a solar panel.

You can learn how to make your own solar panels by clicking here to go to the Make Solar Panels section of our website.

Solar panels are then connected together in a similar way to multiply (increase) the energy production even more or to the desired level of current and voltage sufficient to power household loads. You can learn more about how to connect solar panels and the different effects created in terms of watts, volts and amps by clicking here to visit the "Solar Panel Wiring" section of our website.

Although one cell only produces a tiny (but usable) amount of power, joining many together can potentially power your entire home, your whole block and even entire cities.

So how do solar cells work?... Pretty darn well I'd say!

Click here to go back to the How Solar Power Works section in the exact spot you left off (or just click your browser's back button).