We are often asked the following questions: What is solar energy? How do the sun’s rays become electricity? And can you please explain both in common English?
That being said. Welcome to Solar 101.
Solar terms defined
The solar cells that you see on calculators are called photovoltaic (PV) cells. Photovoltaic combines two words: “photo” meaning “light” and “voltaic” meaning electricity. A solar panel is simply an array of many joined photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic cells are most often made from silicon semiconductors.
So how does sunlight become electricity?
Now, remember back in 8th grade science when we learned that light is a form of energy? When sunlight strikes the cell, a certain portion of light is absorbed within the semiconductor. When the sunlight is absorbed the semiconductor knocks a portion of the lights electrons loose. (Again, remember that all matter basically has protons and electrons).
PV cells all have an electric field that forces the free electrons to move in one direction. This flow of electrons creates an electrical current. To light up your living room, your solar wiring simply taps into this current.
And now you can wow your neighbors at the next block party. Kudos.