A person could use various materials to make a solar panel, including solar cells or water. Two common types of solar panels are photoelectric panels, which produce electricity, and solar thermal panels, which harness the heat energy from sunlight.
A photoelectric panel is a group of solar cells in a grid configuration that capture sunlight from the same direction. A sheet of glass covering the panel protects the solar cells while allowing light to reach them. Solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells, contain semiconductors that produce electric current when exposed to light. They typically contain silicon crystals that provide the energy conversion via a process known in physics as the photoelectric effect. When manufacturers construct photoelectric panels, they group the photovoltaic cells together in modules to enhance their voltage output.
People use solar thermal panels mostly to provide low-cost hot water for their home. Two types of solar heat panels are the flat-plate solar panel and the evacuated-tube solar panel. The flat-plate solar panel utilizes a plate of heat-absorbing material. This plate contains water that becomes hot when the plate absorbs sunlight. A layer of insulation under the plate prevents heat from escaping the water. A sheet of clear glass or plastic, called glazing, covers the flat plate.