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How a PV Cell Works

Sunny Side Up

How a PV Cell Works Diagram Solar panels convert the sunlight's photon energy into electricity.

How a PV Cell Works

Sunlight is composed of photons, or particles of radiant solar energy. These photons contain various amounts of energy depending on the wavelength of the solar spectrum. When the photons strike a solar cell, some are absorbed while others are reflected. When the material absorbs sufficient photon energy, electrons within the solar cell material dislodge from their atoms. The electrons migrate to the front surface of the solar cell, which is manufactured to be more receptive to the free electrons. When many electrons, each carrying a negative charge, travel toward the front surface of the cell, the resulting imbalance of charge between the cell's front and back surfaces creates a voltage potential like the negative and positive terminals of a battery. When the two surfaces are connected through an external load, electricity flows.

Solar Cells Large banks of solar cells maximise the amount of solar energy they can generate.

Individual solar cells vary in size from about 1 cm to about 10 cm across. A cell of this size can only produce 1 or 2 watts, which isn't enough power for most applications. To increase power output, cells are electrically connected into a module. Modules are connected to form an array. The term "array" refers to the entire generating plant, whether it is made up of one or several thousand modules.

The performance of a photovoltaic array is dependent upon sunlight. Climate (e.g. clouds, fog) has a significant effect on the amount of solar energy received by a PV array and, in turn, its performance.