Q:

How do solar panels generate electricity?

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Quick Answer

Solar panels generate electricity by transforming high-energy particles called photons into electrons to produce direct current, or DC electricity. An electronic device known as an inverter then converts the DC electricity into alternating current, or AC electricity, which is the primary form of electricity that powers households and major establishments.

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How do solar panels generate electricity?
Credit: Martin Abegglen CC-BY-SA 2.0

Full Answer

Energy from the sun can be harnessed and transformed into usable energy by installing solar panels, which are typically mounted on sloping roofs of buildings facing south. The two types of solar panels are thermal panels and photovoltaic, or PV, panels. Thermal panels primarily convert solar energy into thermal energy to generate heat for boiling water. PV panels apply the principle behind the photovoltaic effect, which induces an electrical current in a material that is directly subjected to light.

PV panels are designed using a silicon-based semiconducting compound inserted between conducting circuits. A layer of glass usually shields the devices against the elements. Another layer of coating made from an anti-reflective material enables the PV panels to capture maximum solar energy.

The mechanism of PV panels involve trapping the photons from the sun's rays, setting off a series of chemical reactions on the panels. The energy from the photons triggers the release of negatively-charged particles called electrons, which flow from one end of the semiconductor to the other terminal. The DC power that is generated is absorbed by the electrical contacts and later inverted into usable AC power.

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