Solar Panels: Converting the Sun’s Energy to Electricity

how is solar energy converted into electricity

Solar panel energy transformation is somewhat of a mystery. We all know that solar panels turn solar power into electric energy that we can use, but how exactly does this happen? As you go about your day, your solar panels generate electricity. As the Sun is a natural resource and does not pollute the environment, the electricity the Sun generates is green, clean, and 100% renewable. There is nothing better for the planet Earth and our health. Let’s dive in and solve this mystery. 

What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is a form of energy that Sun radiates. All planets in the Solar System get to bathe in this free energy, but it is only the Earth that receives just enough of this energy to sustain life. Other planets, such as Venus and Mercury, get too much of it – their surfaces are scorching hot. Some other planets, further from the Sun than Earth is, such as Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune, receive too little of it and are permanently too cold to sustain life. 

However, this nourishing light, in combination with carbon dioxide we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere for the past 200 years, soon proves to be fatal. As carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, it traps in the heat, making the planet too hot for life as we know it. As we witness a massive animal and plant species extinction, we cannot help but wonder: how can we use all this solar power for our benefit and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The answer lies in solar panels. 

The solar power that the Sun emits consists of the visible light spectrum, composed of yellow, blue, and red wavelengths. Additionally, there is infrared radiation, which we perceive as heat (since we cannot see it). Furthermore, the Sun sends out massive amounts of ultraviolet rays of three types: 

  • UVA – can cause very mild harm to human skin, usually in the form of sunburns, 
  • UVB – can cause significant damage and burns to the skin, and 
  • UVC – a very harmful form of ultraviolet light, capable of causing cancerogenic changes in the skin and the body. 

Luckily for us, our magnificent atmosphere and its ozone layer filter out the harmful rays, leaving us with a healthy dose of light and heat that we can cope with. Not only that, but we have found ways to harness this energy in both passive and active ways. The active harnessing of solar power demands a solar array. 

What is a Solar Panel?

Solar panels are special devices that use a combination of different materials to turn solar power into electrical energy. As your solar array is exposed to direct sunlight, they catch solar radiation and use it to move electrons and build current. As you connect any device to your solar panel, it starts either functioning or charging, depending on the device. Before making your solar system purchase, there are several things to consider: 

Type of Solar Panels

Not all solar panels are alike. As there are many solar cell manufacturers, market niches to satisfy, as well as different uses for one and the same technology, different types of solar have been introduced into the market. Not only that but many more kinds are being researched and made as you’re reading this article. However, the three basic types of cells and panels include: 

Monocrystalline panels are a kind of panel that uses monocrystalline solar cells to generate electricity from the Sun. These panels are highly efficient, usually in a magnitude higher than 20%. However, as they are so efficient, they tend to cost more, so they are the best option for households and properties with limited space. Putting them on top of your RV is another way to enjoy the benefits of this silicon-based wonder. 

A polycrystalline solar panel, as the name suggests, is made from many tiny pieces of silicon crystals, which are fused together. As there are interruptions in the surface where the pieces of silicon meet, they are a bit less efficient – their nominal efficiency rating is 15-18%. However, they are also considerably cheaper than their monocrystalline counterparts, so it is no wonder that they are the preferred type of panels. 

A thin-film panel is made from thin, film-like material with very thin solar cells that can still generate electrical energy from sunshine. These thin-film panels are also very versatile and flexible, which makes them appropriate for many uses. Curved surfaces and roofs are just some of the places where these panels can be put. 

Solar Panel Components

Besides the three basic types, all the panels on the market today (except the experimental solar kinds) consist of five distinct layers. The first layer is the glass, the second is an anti-reflective coating, the third is silicon with phosphorus, and the fourth is silicon with boron. The final layer is the back panel, there to protect the solar panel. 

Solar Cells

The initial element of glass is there to prevent the elements from damaging your solar components. As such, this has to be tempered glass, capable of withstanding pouring rain, snow, hail, and much more. The anti-reflective coating that can be found underneath is there to let as much light as possible in while reducing the reflection of light back into the space. 

The third and the fourth layer are both silicon-based. Silicon is a semiconductor, meaning that it allows for the flow of electrons while staying rigid and suffering virtually no decrease in its performance. The two layers interact when exposed to the Sun’s light, where electrons are released. 

Electrons then travel through the metal components that you can see on the surface of any panel. This is how net charge is created, and electric power is formed. This is the basic outlay of a solar cell. As each cell produces only a small current, it is necessary to arrange many of them into a panel. Many panels combined make up a solar array, while an array with solar batteries and an inverter makes for a solar system. 

How Does Solar Panel Work?

Once the light hits the panel, it excites electrons in silicone-based layers. These electrons are then drawn to the second silicone layer, but on their way there, through a semiconductor, they encounter a conductor – the metal bars. This is an easier path to take, so this is where each electron starts moving – effectively creating what we call the current. 

This transformation does not happen just so. Namely, once a photon (the light particle, half particle, half form of energy) hits the silicon-based layers, it is turned into energy. It is this energy that keeps hitting the panel that helps excite electrons and kick them out of their place in the grid. Without this transformation, we would not be able to use the free resources coming from our star. 

Converting Solar Energy to Electricity

This transformation does not happen just so. Namely, once a photon (the light particle, half particle, half form of energy) hits the silicon-based layers, it is turned into energy. It is this energy that keeps hitting the panel that helps excite electrons and kick them out of their place in the grid. Without this transformation, we would not be able to use the free resources coming from our star. 

Factors to Consider When Buying Solar Panels

As no two solar systems are alike, there is a lot to think through before purchasing your solar system. Your solar system performance depends on both the factors coming from the environment as well as the characteristics of the panels themselves. Here are factors to consider before buying a solar system: 

  1. The orientation of your roof, 
  2. The roof slope, 
  3. Your energy needs and habits, 
  4. How many batteries do you need? (what kind of batteries, what capacity), 
  5. What kind of inverter do you need, 
  6. How much power do you need to produce for your yearly needs

The orientation and the slope of your roof determine how many panels you will need. The more the orientation meets the southern cardinal point, the better. And the more the slope matches the movements of the Sun, the better. In an ideal case, you will have the perfect orientation and slope and will need fewer panels to do the trick. 

How much power you use and at what parts of the day is the next factor to consider. If you use most of the power in the mornings, it is only natural to have at least some panels on the eastern side of your home, as this is where the Sun shines from in the morning. If you use most of the electricity in the evenings, you should consider placing the panels on the west slope of the roof. 

If, however, your utility enables net metering, it does not matter how much solar power is converted into electricity. What matters is the annual quantity of power. In this case, placing all panels on the southern slope will yield the most power, and you may even use the grid as your solar storage. 

Benefits and Drawbacks of Solar Energy

There are many benefits to using solar power to keep the lights on. For every kWh you convert to electricity from the Sun, you save approximately 1-2 lbs of CO2 emissions. Although it may not seem significant, you should bear in mind that these numbers quickly add up. After all, the average US household uses around 10,000 kWh of electrical energy every year. 

The benefits of going solar

There are also some drawbacks of going solar: 

  • Solar cells generate DC, so you will need an inverter, 
  • High upfront costs of solar installation, 
  • High costs of solar battery storage, 
  • Many roofs are shaded and are not the perfect match for solar, and 
  • Sun is intermittent – you will get no power at night or on cloudy days. 

Environmental Impact of Solar Panels

Solar panel energy transformation yields clean power for more than 25 years after its installation. However, considering that your panels are manufactured, some energy and materials go into their making. For this reason, every solar panel has a specific carbon footprint; that is, some pollution is released during their making. 

However, during their lifetime, your panels will produce more than enough energy to compensate for this amount of CO2 that is released. Furthermore, the more panels we have connected to the grid, the higher the percentage of renewable energy those same factories will be using. With this in mind, we should not worry about the panels’ environmental impact. 


Why is solar panels a renewable resource?

Solar panels are a renewable resource because they use the power coming from the Sun. This power is renewable and permanent since the Sun is here to stay. As soon as some of the light has been converted into electricity, more light hits the surface of the panel, making it a renewable source of energy. 

How long do solar panels last?

Most solar panels are designed to last for 30 years. Most of them have a 20-year or a 25-year warranty to keep 80% of their performance. It is noticeable that monocrystalline panels, especially in the higher tier of the price range, keep their efficiency level for much longer than cheaper panels/ 

Do solar panels contribute to global warming?

There is some CO2 released during the manufacturing and transportation of your solar panels. However, the amount of CO2 that is saved by utilizing a solar system is much greater. Therefore, your solar panels are totally carbon-negative. 

Why solar energy is the future?

Solar energy is the future for multiple reasons. First of all, it is free and abundant. Secondly, it produces no pollution. Thirdly, solar power requires almost no maintenance. Additionally, solar power is easy to scale up and decentralize while at the same time keeping it integrated into the smart grids of the future. 


Solar panel energy transformation is a complex process that generates power when you need it most. Your solar array will keep working even during blackouts. Coupled with a good solar battery, it will be a reliable source of emergency power that is available 24/7, even off-grid. 

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