How Do Solar Panels Work?

If you have ever wondered to yourself, “how do solar panels work?” This guide will answer your question in an easy to understand way.

Image of solar panels on a university campus to represent how do solar panels work.
Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

Have you ever looked up at a rooftop covered in shiny solar panels and wondered, “how in the world do these things work?” Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Truth is, I used to be just as clueless as you are now. But after doing some research (and a little bit of daydreaming about living off the grid), I’ve learned a thing or two about these mysterious devices, that can help us cut our fossil fuel addiction.

So, if you’re ready to become a solar panel expert (or at least impress your friends with your newfound knowledge), strap in and get ready for a wild solar ride. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the inner workings of solar panels, from the photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity, to the wires that carry that electricity to your home and everything in between. We’ll also do our best myth busters impression and try to bust some common myths about solar panels. We’ll also explore some alternative solar technologies.

The goal of this article is to provide a comprehensive and entertaining explanation of how solar panels work. But don’t worry, we won’t get too technical. This is meant to be a fun and informative read, not a physics lesson. So let’s jump on in!

What Is Solar Energy?

To understand how solar panels work, we first must understand Solar energy. Solar energy is a type of renewable energy that is generated by harnessing the power of, you guessed it, the sun. It is a clean, abundant, and free energy source that is used to produce electricity, heat water, and power a variety of devices. Solar energy is a great alternative to fossil fuels, which are non-renewable and produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

So, how does solar energy work? It all starts with the sun. The sun is a massive ball of hydrogen and helium that produces energy through a process called nuclear fusion (hopefully breakthroughs in fusion energy production will solve our green energy needs, for now solar is the best option) .

This energy is emitted as light and heat, and it travels through space to reach the earth. When the sun’s rays hit the earth’s surface, they are absorbed and converted into heat. This heat can be used to generate electricity through a process called solar thermal energy.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

But what about those shiny solar panels that you see on rooftops and in solar farms? How do they work? That’s where solar electricity comes in. Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic panels, convert that sunlight the sun threw our way at 186,287 miles per second, into electricity.

They are made up of photovoltaic cells, which are thin layers of semi-conducting material (usually silicon) that capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity. When sunlight hits the cells, it causes the electrons in the silicon to become as excited as a 5 year old on Christmas morning, and move around. These moving electrons create an electrical current, which can be harnessed, converted, and used to power all our needs.

Solar panels are made up of multiple photovoltaic cells that are wired together and encased in a protective layer. This layer helps to keep the cells safe from the elements and increases their lifespan.

So, when you see a solar panel on a rooftop or in a solar farm, you’re actually looking at a bunch of tiny solar-powered factories working together to generate electricity. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

How Does Electricity Go From Solar Panels To Our Home?

Now, let’s talk about how the electricity from the solar panels gets to your home or business.

The electricity generated by the solar panels flows through wires to an inverter, which converts the electricity from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). Not AC/DC the rock band you metal heads. AC electricity is the type of electricity that is used in our homes and businesses, so it’s necessary to convert the DC electricity from the solar panels in order to use it.

From there, the AC electricity flows through a meter and into your home or business, where it powers your lights, appliances, and other devices. Any excess electricity that is not used by your home or business can often be fed back into the grid, where it is used by other people.

This process is called “net metering” and the regulations surrounding this vary by location. Check your local regulations on net metering, as it isn’t permitted in all areas. If your area doesn’t have favorable net metering rules, you can look into battery storage for your excess solar energy.

Battery storage is an upfront cost, but will save you money in the long run.

So, to sum up: The sun launches solar rays at us at an unfathomable speed, solar panels use photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity, which is then converted from DC to AC and used to power homes and businesses.

Any excess electricity is either fed back into the grid or stored in batteries for later use. It’s really an amazing, powerful process that harnesses the natural energy of the sun to provide clean and renewable electricity.

If you are a visual learner, you can watch the following video to understand more about the question, “how do solar panels work”.

Alternative Solar Technologies and How They Work

Solar panels are a popular and effective way to generate electricity, but they are not the only game in town. There are several other solar technologies that are used to harness that free solar goodness. Here are a few examples:

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)

Concentrated solar power, or CSP, are the big guns of solar energy. It uses mirrors to focus sunlight and generate electricity on a larger scale. CSP plants use large arrays of mirrors to focus sunlight onto a central receiver, which then absorbs the heat and converts it into electricity.

The electricity is then transmitted to the grid and used by homes and businesses. CSP plants can generate electricity during the day and at night, using stored heat to continue generating electricity even when the sun is not shining. Mirror mirror on the wall, what’s the best energy source of them all? Solar!

Solar water heaters

Solar water heaters use the sun’s energy to heat water for use in homes and businesses. These systems consist of a collector (usually in the form of a panel or tube) that absorbs the sun’s energy and a storage tank that holds the heated water.

Solar water heaters can be used to heat water for showers, washing dishes, or whatever else you like to do with hot water. They are a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional water heaters, which use electricity or natural gas to heat water.

Solar water heaters might be something to consider, unless you are the cold shower type of person. In that case, scroll on.

Solar-powered products

There are also smaller gadgets that use solar energy on a much smaller scale. Some examples include solar-powered calculators, watches, and cell phone chargers. These products use small photovoltaic cells to generate electricity and are a convenient way to stay powered up on the go.

Advantages and disadvantages of alternative solar technologies

Alternative solar technologies each have their own advantages and disadvantages. CSP plants can generate electricity during the day and at night, but they require a lot of land and are currently very expensive.

Solar water heaters are a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to heat water, but they may not work as well in cold climates. I know this from experience… Nothing like starting your winter day with a nice cold shower, said no one ever.

Solar-powered products are convenient and portable, but they do not generate enough electricity to power larger devices.

So, when it comes to alternative solar technologies, it’s important to consider your needs and the resources available in your area. Each technology has its own strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the right one for your situation will depend on your specific needs and goals.

Common Misconception About How Solar Panels Work

Myth: Solar panels only work on sunny days

Reality: Solar panels can generate electricity on cloudy days, as long as there is some sunlight. Actually, solar panels sometimes generate more electricity on cloudy days than on hot, sunny days.

This is because the cooler temperatures allow the panels to work more efficiently. Just make sure your solar panels are cleaned regularly so they are functioning at their peak potential.


Solar panels are a powerful and effective way to harness the sun’s energy and generate electricity for whatever floats your boat (in case you were wondering, yes, solar panels can be used on your boat).

By using photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity, solar panels provide a clean and renewable energy source that will help to reduce energy bills and decrease your carbon footprint.

There are also several alternative solar technologies that can be used to harness the sun’s energy, like concentrated solar power, solar water heaters, and solar-powered products.

Each of these technologies has its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to consider your needs and the resources available in your area when choosing the right solar technology for your situation.

So, if you’re looking to reduce your energy bills, reduce your carbon footprint, or just do your part to help the environment, consider using solar panels or another solar technology in your life. The sun’s energy is a reliable and renewable source of power that can help you to live a more sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle and preserve our planet for future generations.

We hope you enjoyed our article and now have a better understanding to the questions, “how do solar panels work”. If you found this useful, please consider sharing. Thanks for reading.

How do solar panels work at night?

Solar panels do not generate electricity at night because they rely on sunlight to produce electricity. However, some homes and businesses have batteries that store excess solar electricity for use during times when the sun is not shining, including at night. These batteries allow homes and businesses to use solar electricity even when the sun is not shining.

How do I know if my solar panels are working?

To tell if your solar panels are working, check your solar panel production meter, monitor your energy usage, and look for visible damage. If you notice any issues, contact your solar panel provider for assistance. They can help you troubleshoot and ensure that your solar panels are functioning properly.

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