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Exploring the Functionality of Solar Panels

How Solar Panels Work

The present news sphere believes in climate change and is focused on sustainability. With this comes the solar power buzz.

We won’t dive too deeply into academics, rather our aim is to explain a simple concept, how solar panels work.

What is a semiconductor?

A semiconductor is a material that acts as both an insulator and a conductor.

For example, a circuit is cut in the middle and a slice of silicon is placed between the split ends of the cut wire. The circuit does not function as the silicon is not conductive in this state. Next, we heat the silicon. Suddenly, the circuit comes to life. If the circuit had a lightbulb in the centre, it would now glow.

P-type & N-type

A p-type solar cell has a positively charged silicon base.

An n-type solar cell has a negatively charged silicon base.

An intrinsic semiconductor has low conductivity. Doping adds impurities to an intrinsic semiconductor.

By adding pentavalent atoms to an intrinsic semiconductor material, the number of free electrons can be increased as well as the conductivity of the semiconductor material. Silicon is doped with phosphorus. This is an n-type semiconductor material.

Adding more trivalent impurity atoms to an intrinsic semiconductor material increases the number of holes and increases the conductivity of the material. Silicon is doped with boron. This is a p-type semiconductor material.

The doping process converts an intrinsic semiconductor material into an extrinsic semiconductor material and produces either an n-type or p-type semiconductor material. Combining the n-type and p-type semiconductor materials creates a boundary known as p-n junction.

The p-n junction makes the silicon wafers in a solar panel highly conductive and highly efficient at converting sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity.

Silicon

Silicon is found in rocks, sand, clays, and soils as silica (silicon dioxide, an oxide of silicon) or silicates (when combined with oxygen and other elements, such as metals like aluminium or magnesium).

Silica is the primary source for silicon production.

Silica is converted to pure silicon crystals to use in solar cells. Silica is heated with a carbon material at a very high temperature. As the mix heats, the carbon reacts with the oxygen in the silica. This forms CO gas. In the best words, the oxygen is removed from the silica, and raw silicon is produced in molten form.

Manufacturing silicon wafers

Solar cells are made from silicon crystals formed by melting raw silicon and dropping a seed crystal, a hard crystal shaped like a big drill bit, into the silicon and rotating the crystal while pulling up the silicon. This forms a long silicon cylinder called an ingot which is then cut into small squares the size of coasters.

How solar panels work

Solar panels convert daylight, also called solar radiation, into direct current (DC) electricity. Daylight can be broken up by clouds and still cause electrons to move in solar cells, creating electricity.

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