You can’t talk about solar panels without silicon. Silicon is a non-metallic element and one of the most abundant materials on earth.4 It’s also able to convert sunlight into electricity, and, you guessed it—the key ingredient in a solar system (also known as a photovoltaic, or pv system).
To make a solar panel, solar cells (or pv cells) are made using crystalline silicon sliced into ultra-thin wafers only millimeters thin.5 These wafers are sandwiched between protective glass, insulation, and a protective back sheet, creating a solar panel. The back sheet helps to regulate the temperature and humidity to optimize the solar panel’s efficiency.6 Multiple solar panels connected together create a solar array, and ultimately, a solar system.
Now, let’s get down to the physics of how solar cells work: Electricity is made when electrons move between atoms.7 The top and bottom of a silicon wafer in the solar cell is treated with small amounts of extra materials so that the top layer has more electrons and the bottom layer has less. When the sun excites the electrons in these oppositely charged layers, these electrons move through a circuit that's attached to the panels. This flow of electrons through the circuit is what creates an electrical current.8
This electrical current, or direct current (DC) electricity, is then fed into a solar inverter and converted to alternating current (AC) electricity, the electricity that ultimately powers your home.9
This entire process is happening safely, quietly, and instantaneously in hundreds and thousands of homes across the country without any of the harmful emissions found in more traditional sources of electricity like coal or gas. Plus, there aren’t any mechanical parts that will wear out, so solar panels can go on for decades.10