Interested to learn some solar science? Here’s a basic description of how a photovoltaic cell works:
The purpose of a photovoltaic cell is to take rays from the sun and use that light to make an electric current. That current can run things in your home, like the device you’re using to read this webpage!
The materials in the photovoltaic cell allow it to do its job. Silicon is used in the cells because of one characteristic property: when light photons hit it, the atomic particles that comprise the silicon become excited at a tiny micro level, and electrons from the silicon start moving, creating a flow. Metallic connections allow the current to flow from the cells of a solar panel to wires that bring it where it needs to go. A conductive, supportive backing is usually found on the back of the cell – if it’s made of copper it will be the most durable over time.
The grid-like pattern of a solar panel is made up of individual cells, quilted together into a larger unit. Panels can be combined into an array to fill up as much of a roof or open yard as the energy user needs. The rating of a single solar panel (also sometimes called a solar module) is given in Watts, and the rating of a solar array or an entire solar project is given in kiloWatts, or thousands of Watts, to simplify the large wattage numbers involved!
As it operates over time, a complete solar energy system will produce power measured in kiloWatt-hours. This measure might be familiar to you if you’re in the habit of closely scrutinizing your electric bill from your utility company – it’s the unit they use to measure the volume of electricity your home has used during your billing period. Your electric costs without solar are typically determined by your kiloWatt-hour usage times your electric rate, plus any fixed monthly fees.
By going solar, you’ll own a product that will replace a lot of the kiloWatt-hours you need, so you can supply yourself instead of relying entirely on utility power – this is all possible thanks to photovoltaic cell technology, developed in the 1840s and now advanced enough to help you save significantly on your electric utility costs.