The Earth is constantly bombarded with photons from the sun, providing us with far more energy than we use each day. So how do two thin sheets of metal turn this abundant light into usable, renewable energy?

To understand how solar panels work, we must first take a trip back in time to high school chemistry class. Remember memorizing the periodic table? Well, the principal element in question today is silicon: atomic number 14, found immediately below carbon for those following along at home.

Silicon is the second most abundant element on Earth. It’s somewhat unique in structure, as its outermost orbital contains four electrons (those pesky, negatively charged things outside the nucleus) which form four strong, lattice-shaped covalent bonds with neighboring atoms. These bonds are stable and hold the electrons in place.

To produce electricity, however, we need to induce electron motion. To make that happen, the silicon is split into two paper-thin sheets that are seeded with trace amounts of other elements which provoke electron imbalance. In layman’s terms, the top sheet is fused with phosphorus to provide extra electrons and the bottom layer with boron to create a scarcity of electrons. An electric field is then formed when the sheets are sandwiched together: The top layer is negatively charged (N) and the bottom is positively charged (P).

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These N and P layers form the catalyst for electron motion. When photons from sunlight transfer their energy to the silicon, free elections from the N layer are knocked loose and seek to fill the “holes” in the electron-deficient P layer, thus creating an electric circuit. The electric field propels these roaming electrons toward the conductive metal casing around the cell, which carries them out of the panels to your outlets, lights, and appliances. And just like that, your home, business, van, trailer, or patio is powered by the sun!

Once in place, a solar photovoltaic system is entirely self-sustaining and resilient to most forms of inclement weather. An array will usually go its entire lifetime without needing maintenance because there are zero moving pieces. The main risks (although exceedingly rare) to system health are animal intervention or back-end technology issues, both of which are preventable through critter guards and system monitoring–services we provide with each installation.

Your roof is showered with free, clean energy each day. Schedule a free site evaluation today to see how photons can power your home or business.