ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How Do Solar Panels Work (simplified)

Updated on January 27, 2013

The Sun's Potential

Almost all energy on this planet comes from the Sun. Oil and gas come from living things that died a very long time ago and those living things all got their energy from the Sun. Even wind currents and the water cycle rely on the Sun to some degree. The Sun puts out more energy that reaches earth than we could ever use. So why is there an energy shortage?

Well theoretically you could power an electric car with a solar panel that charged a battery that powered the engine. In reality however this would be difficult with our current solar cell technology, but there has been research that has indicated that it might be possible in the future. In the laboratory solar cells have shown promise but getting the same results in the real world at a price the average person could afford is still a ways off.

So what is a Solar Cell?: The first thing you need to under stand is why electric current "flows". To simplify this lets take a car battery and you probably know that there is a positive and a negative terminal usually marked by a large + or -. The simple explanation for how the battery works is that at the negative terminal there is a large number of electrons and at the positive end there is big shortage of electrons. In nature things like to balance out, so if you connect these terminals with the car's electrical circuits between them, the electrons will flow from the negative to the positive until there is a balance of electrons, at which point we say the battery is dead. We then use a battery charger to force things out of balance again, so that once again we have "all the electrons back to one side" so that there is a natural tendency for the electrons to flow again. This difference between the + and the - is called difference in potential, and we call this voltage. A fully charged car battery has 12 volts of difference in potential. So in order to get a flow of electricity we need to have some area that has more electrons than another and connect the two areas.

Some Solar Panels

Here is a neat solar panel from a company in Vermont, notice that it can be adjusted to the Sun
Here is a neat solar panel from a company in Vermont, notice that it can be adjusted to the Sun
Here is a basic 5 to 10 watt solar panel that can be used to charge a battery or run a small appliance.
Here is a basic 5 to 10 watt solar panel that can be used to charge a battery or run a small appliance.
This is a somewhat dramatic presentation of a solar panel that powers a light fixture in a garage or closet.
This is a somewhat dramatic presentation of a solar panel that powers a light fixture in a garage or closet.

So How Do Solar Cells Work?

You have probably heard of an "electric eye", This is based on a principal called the photo electric effect. An over simplification of this is that some materials will give off electrons when exposed to the energy of certain light.

Well the solar cell takes this a step further and uses something called the photo voltic effect. Now again an over simplification is if you get a material to give off electrons using the photo electric effect and those electrons are collected by another nearby material, the nearby material would have excess electrons and the material that gave off the electrons would have a lack of electrons. This is just like the battery from earlier. In this way a solar cell becomes like a battery and can generate an electrical flow. If you put a bunch of these cells together you get a solar panel.

Now the problem with this is a term called efficiency, which is basically what do you get out compared with what you put in. In nature you always get less out than what you put in because there is always heat loss, friction, etc... Solar cells are very inefficient. The first solar cell was built by a guy by the name of Charles Fritts in 1883 and it's efficiency was about 1%. This means that you would have to put in 100 units of energy to get one unit of energy produced. The sun's energy is free and that is the only reason anyone ever wasted any time on such a bad return.

Today you can buy solar panels that have efficiency ratings from 3or4% to the mid 20% depending on the type of solar cell used and how they are put together. The greater the efficiency the higher the price. In the labratory efficiency ratings of over 40% have been reported but in general use affordable panels generally run between 8 and 20% and of course some are even less efficient and are very inexpensive and are used as science projects, toys and novilties.

So the days of powering your car with a solar panel is not fully here yet, but it might not be that far away since advances are being made daily in this field. Of course the prototypes might only be affordable to Bill Gates, but the first "cell phones" were the size of a large brick and could only be purchased by the rich and look at those today. Space vehicles are solar powered and perhaps soon yours will be also.


Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Marc Rance 

      5 years ago

      [quote]8192 characters left.[/quote]

      Wonderful info, Thanks..

      Incredible plenty of excellent facts!

    • GreenMathDr profile imageAUTHOR

      GreenMathDr 

      7 years ago

      Thanks, as a math and science guy I could get real technical. But if some wanted a real technical explanation they could get it in a text book.

    • profile image

      mini projects for cse 

      7 years ago

      Brilliant hub, really nice explanation, very informative too.

    • profile image

      joyce.blue 

      8 years ago

      Excellent Hub! this is very informative and really tell how solar panels work. Although I am quite familiar with solar panels but this hub really explained all the things I have in mind.

    • GreenMathDr profile imageAUTHOR

      GreenMathDr 

      8 years ago

      Joe, usually a solar panel is used to charge a battery which then powers the item. Sometimes the panel is attached directly to the thing it is powering but obviously this would only work during daylight hours and would not be practical for most uses. Jokes about solar powered lights that only work in the daytime are based on using a solar panel to run lights without a battery.

      I'm not sure I fully understand the computer keyboard scenario but if not recharged all batteries will die eventually. In normal application the panel would recharge the battery during the daylight hours. but if you mean die completely as in no longer rechargeable then eventually that too will happen unless someone invents a battery that lasts "forever". (That might make a good Sci-Fi movie. Civilization is long gone but the energizer bunny and all battery powered items are still going.)

    • profile image

      Joe 

      8 years ago

      I'm very unfamilar with the workings of solar power.

      I just wrote a blog about Logitech's new solar powered keyboards,

      but my friend brought up a good point (i think)

      Even if something is powered by solar panels, there's still some sort

      of "battery" that is getting charged... correct?

      So if someone made a computer keyboard using solar panels,

      eventually the battery (which is powered by the solar power)

      would die... correct?

      Good post by the way

    • GreenMathDr profile imageAUTHOR

      GreenMathDr 

      9 years ago

      You know there was just a break through in Germany that will really cut the price of Solar panels if it works I'll get the data to you as soon as I find it.

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 

      9 years ago from NJ, USA

      I've been thinking of investing in this for my house for a while - maybe in a couple of years! Great HUb!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)