how solar panels work step by step

How Solar Panels Work Step By Step

A lot of us know what a solar panel is. And most of those who know what a solar panel is, usually have at least a vague idea of how they work. They convert sunlight to electricity.


But how do they do that?  

At a high level, understanding how solar panels work is a fairly easy concept. Just place your solar panels on your roof or wherever they get the most sunlight during the daytime. 

Then connect the panels to your house’s electric panel and that’s it! You’re now creating your own electricity. 

Obviously, however, it is not as simple as that. To find out more, we’ve laid out how solar panels work step by step below. It’s meant to provide a good summary overview for those who want more of an understanding of how they work.

However, we’re not getting into a deep technical discussion or masterclass in solar. It’s just meant to satisfy the curiosity of those who want solar (or have it) and want a little better understanding of how they work.

What Solar Panels Are Made Of

Before everything else, it is important to know what solar panels are made of. Because understanding this will help you better understand how a solar panel works. 

There’s some variation in materials, but typically solar panels are made of the following: 

  • A layer of silicon cells (also known as “photovoltaic cells“)
  • A metal frame
  • A glass casing 
  • Wires
  • Special film

The key part here is the layer of silicon cells. Silicon is a material (an element actually… it’s number 14 on the periodic table) that is able to convert light to electricity.

How? Well, when sunlight hits the silicon, it makes the electrons in the silicon move. It’s this movement that creates the flow of electricity. 

How Solar Panels Work Step By Step

The first step is for sunlight to hit the solar panel. 

Each photovoltaic cell contains a thin semiconductor wafer that is made from two layers of silicon. One layer is positively charged while the other is negatively charged. 

Once the sunlight shines on the photovoltaic cell it energizes the cell. When the cell is energized, the electricity generated from the silicon will flow to the edges of the panel. This is where the wires are.

The electricity enters the wires where it moves on to an inverter. The inverter’s job is to convert the Direct Current (DC) created from the solar modules into Alternating Current (AC). It’s this AC current that our homes, appliances, etc. need to work. 

Once the electricity is converted to AC, it’s ready to use. At this point, the electricity travels through another wire to your electric (or breaker) box on your home. Then it works just like the electricity you get from the electric company. The current goes into the breaker box and from there gets sent throughout your home as needed.

Final Thoughts

There are different types of solar panels. But the above process gives you a good overview of how solar panels work in general. 

It’s basically using silicon to convert sunlight to electricity and then getting it to your lights, appliances, and more! It’s a simple and clean way to create energy.

And as scientists create more efficiency in the process and companies reduce the cost of production, it’s becoming a highly affordable option for many. See whether solar makes financial sense either here or by using the form below.