Exactly how a photovoltaic solar cell generates electricity from sunshine without any moving parts is fascinating.
Discover the basic principles behind the operation of the photovoltaic solar cell. The concepts are made simple and the diagrams are easy to understand with no prior knowledge required.
You can also find out more about how electricity works with regard to voltage, current and all that business.
The operation of the individual solar cell is based on the movement of electrons from two differently prepared pieces of Silicon lattice. Sunlight dislodges electrons in one area and they are pulled toward the second region producing an electrical current.
The differences between cells made of single crystals (monocrystalline) and those made from many smaller crystals (polycrystalline) are of cost and efficiency. Single crystal cells are more efficient but are more difficult to produce and are therefore more expensive.
A recent advance in multicrystalline technology called the string ribbon process look set to reduce the cost of panels made from this substance while retaining the high efficiency rates associated with the use of Silicon.
Conversion rates vary between the different panel types. The efficiency of a panel type must be taken into account when considering the cost of an installation. Not all types are created equal!
Panels produce direct current because of the way they are designed. The mains power supply uses alternating current and it is the power inverter that converts this energy into useful household electricity.
A lot of research has been put into removing the need for Silicon in solar cells due to the expense and difficulty of producing it. But as of yet serious breakthroughs in the use of plastics for solar cell operation are yet to come.
Due to the nature of the materials it is not possible to construct individual cells in the backyard. However it is possible, with a guide and a bit of know-how, to construct a functioning panel from component parts.