How do solar panels work?

Solar panels are one of the most common forms of renewable technology - they work by converting the sun’s energy into electricity. This is done using some very clever little bits of technology called photovoltaic cells.

The photovoltaic cells are sandwiched between semi-conducting materials – normally silicon but it can also be glass or polymer resin – with different electronic properties to create an electric field.

When photons - or sunlight, as it's more commonly known - hit the solar panels, the semi-conducting materials energise. This is known as the photoelectric effect and it’s this that creates the current needed to produce electricity.

How do solar panels work?

Most current solar panels only react to the visible light spectrum as these have the strongest energy, however there is a lot of research going on to make better use of the full spectrum and allow electricity generation from ultraviolet and infrared rays.

You can’t plug electricity generated from solar panels straight into the mains as it is direct current, so it first needs to be converted to the safer and more stable alternating current. To do this, the electricity is passed through an inverter, which can then be funnelled into the national grid or used locally.

What are the advantages of solar energy?

There are many benefits to using solar power, here’s why we like it at Good Energy:

  • Guaranteed power when the sun is shining which means that you have a consistent, stable form of generation throughout the day.
  • The UK is really well-suited to solar power because you need sunlight, not heat, to generate electricity. 
  • Solar panels can be installed just about anywhere – just look at our friends at Brixton Energy who’ve placed solar panels on the rooftops of urban buildings throughout London to help combat fuel poverty and help reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
  • They require little to no maintenance after installation, making them a hassle free form of creating renewable energy.
  • Solar panels don’t create any noise or pollution while working, which makes them perfect for urban applications and rural sites alike.
  • Solar panels are very safe; they’re made primarily of silicon so there are no dangers of the cells leaking any sort of toxins or fumes.

What are the challenges of solar energy?

No system is flawless and solar is not an exception; there are a number of challenges to the efficient use of solar, including:

  • Storage of energy – as all solar energy is created during the day it needs to be stored in order to be used at peak times during the evening. Finding a battery storage solution that can store the volume of electricity required is key.
  • People’s perception – unfortunately there are many misconceptions surrounding solar power and there’s a huge amount of education required for wider acceptance of this form of renewable energy.
  • They need to be monitored – on a sunny day, solar farms need to be restricted as the amount of generation could exceed demand which would create instability on the grid if left alone.

   

What happens to solar energy on cloudy days?

This is a common question, and you might be surprised by the answer.

Put simply - yes, cloud cover does result in reduced generation.

However, because solar panels use the visible spectrum of light to generate electricity, as long as it’s light enough to see then it is light enough for the panels to work.

In the video below you can see the generation of one of our solar sites on a day with variable cloud cover: 

Does it need to be hot for solar panels to work?

This is a common misconception as it is the light that generates energy, not the heat. In fact, when it becomes too hot (or too cold) solar panels actually lose some of their efficiency. Due to the UK’s mild weather and having at least 8 hours of daylight – even in winter – we’re well positioned to take advantage of solar power.

How many solar sites does Good Energy own?

At Good Energy, we have seven of our own solar farms and we work with a large number of independent generators with solar panels across the UK. In addition to this, we’re constantly investing in the development of solar farms around the UK – adding to the UK’s renewable energy infrastructure and helping to change the future one watt at a time.

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