This is the first post of a three part series covering the topic of How Solar Panels Work. In our line of work, we cover many curious questions about the technology of solar panels. So we breakdown the energy conversion process to give homeowners a better understanding of the power being converted from their rooftops.
How it started: The space program gave rise to the solar panel
Solar power may seem like a new cutting edge concept, but people have been using energy from the sun for hundreds of years in many different form. However, solar panels as we know them today were invented by Bell labs in 1954. While the invention garnered attention the solar panel didn’t really reach prominence until its use in the space program. In 1958 solar panels began being utilized for satellites because of their ability to extend the life of missions by providing a form of energy generation in the vacuum of space.
Nearly a decade later researchers began working on “terrestrial applications” to see if solar panels could work for us here on earth. Many prominent companies like General Electric and IBM also entertained the idea. But one problem still persisted, it was too expensive. The price and efficiency would not become commercially viable for another 25 years, but like much of our home technology today it had its humble beginnings in the space program.
How solar panels harness the sun’s energy
Now that we know our solar history, we can find out how solar panels work. Solar panels work by capturing positively charged particles from the sun’s rays. These positively charged particles called photons travel the distance from the sun and strike the silicon semi-conductors in the solar cells. This process knocks loose electrons from their atoms, the electron then travels through the solar cell until it finds an electrode where it is bound into electrical current. The direct current (DC) is then guided through the cells and out the panel where it is fed through the conduit to the inverter where the direct current is then converted to the alternating current (AC) that is used by all of your household appliances.