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How Do Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Panels Work?

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When you stop to think about them, solar panels can seem like a total mystery: How do these magical panels absorb energy from the sun? And, how does that solar energy turn into electricity?

If you’re curious about how solar panels work, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog, we’ll explain:

We hope that by the end of this article, you’ll understand a little more about how solar PV panels work and how to choose the right ones for your home. We’ll start by looking at the photovoltaic effect, which is how solar panels produce electricity.

Interested in solar panels for your home or business?

Contact Photon Brothers at (720) 370‑3344 (Colorado) or (805) 351‑3371 (California) for a FREE estimate. Our solar experts will help you choose the best solar panels for your energy needs and budget. We’re proud to offer a 25-year production guarantee and convenient financing options. Plus, you can relax knowing our electricians have a perfect safety record. Ensure a top-quality installation with Photon Brothers and enjoy peace of mind for years to come!

The Photovoltaic Effect

You may already know that PV” stands for photovoltaic, but you may not know that the word refers to the photovoltaic effect.” The photovoltaic effect is the physical and chemical process that converts sunlight into electricity.

Solar panels are built with special technology and materials to facilitate the photovoltaic effect. Each solar panel consists of several smaller solar (PV) cells. Inside each solar cell is a thin semiconductor wafer with positively- and negatively-charged sides. When photons (particles of radiant light) hit the solar cell, electrons in the semiconductor start moving around. Electrical conductors on each side of the semiconductor capture these shifting electrons, which ultimately creates electricity.

However, the electricity generated by the solar panels comes in the form of direct current (DC). Since residences and businesses use alternating current (AC), the DC from the solar panel must pass through a device called the inverter. The inverter converts DC into AC (alternating current) so that the electricity can power the appliances in a home or building. 

Now that you have a high-level overview of how solar PV panels create electricity, let’s look at the different types of PV panels you can buy.

The Three Main Types of Solar Panels

Above, we gave a general description of how solar panels create electricity. Even though all solar panels use the photovoltaic effect to produce electricity, some panels are more effective than others at turning sunlight into usable power.

Below, we’ll explain the three main types of solar panels and how they differ from one another.

Monocrystalline solar panels

Silicon is the most commonly used semiconductor material in solar panels because it is cost-effective and energy-efficient. The solar cells in a monocrystalline solar panel are made from a single, pure silicon crystal. 

Because they are made with pure silicon, monocrystalline solar panels last longer and have higher energy efficiency ratings compared to other panels. That said, the material and manufacturing costs are higher, making monocrystalline solar panels more expensive than other PV panels.

Polycrystalline solar panels

Polycrystalline solar panels also use silicon, but are made with a composite of silicon crystals (instead of a single pure crystal). These silicon crystals are melted together, forming a hybrid silicon mold. 

Compared to monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline panels are less efficient because they lack pure silicon. However, polycrystalline panels are cheaper to manufacture, resulting in a lower upfront cost.

Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels differ from monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels because they do not use silicone as a semiconductor. Instead, thin-film PV panels use semiconductors such as:

  • Cadmium telluride (CdTe)
  • Amorphous silicon (a‑Si)
  • Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)

These materials have a lower efficiency than silicon, but they are generally less expensive to manufacture. Thin-film panels are also easier to install because they weigh less, which also reduces the solar installation cost. 

How to Choose PV Panels for Your Home or Business

When it comes to choosing between each of these panels for your home or business, you’ll want to consider the following factors:

  • Your budget: If you want to cut down upfront costs, you may opt for less expensive panels, such as polycrystalline or thin-film panels. However, these types of panels are becoming increasingly obsolete due to their limited power output. 
  • The space you have to install the panels: If you have limited space on your roof, you may need to install a few high-efficiency monocrystalline panels rather than several polycrystalline or thin-film panels.
  • Your desired payback period: If you want the most long-term savings for a shorter payback period, go with more efficient PV panels, such as monocrystalline panels.

Of course, you’ll need to consult with a solar engineer to consider each of these factors accurately. A solar expert can provide you with pricing and help you calculate the number of panels you need, which will help you make an informed decision about which panels to choose for your home or business.

Get expert solar advice and a FREE estimate from Photon Brothers!

Interested in solar panels for your home or business? Contact Photon Brothers today, and our solar experts will help you choose the best solar panels for your energy needs and budget. We offer convenient financing options, and we’re well-versed in both Colorado and California tax incentives for solar installations. Plus, we offer a 25-year production guarantee, which guarantees your solar production will be no less than 90%, even after 25 years!

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