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What Happens Under the Glass? How Solar Panels Work

Have you ever wondered how the large glass rectangles that lay upon your neighbors roof actually produce electricity? It can be confusing as the suns energy maybe be hard to see, but you can definitely feel it and that’s kind of how the panels work too. The difference is, when we feel the heat from the sun it’s because the sun’s rays hit our skin and our electrons in our body start to vibrate and therefore create heat, but in a solar panel the electrons move around and are not static. In a material such as silicone, this movement of electrons is what creates the electric current within the panel.

While silicone was the traditional way of making panels, it was also pricey for the every-day homeowner. Because of this, newer panels can be found made from Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), Amorphous Silicon (a-Si), Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS), Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) which are smaller in size and provide more reasonable costs.[1]

Inside the panels there is a metal plate that acts as a conductor to trap the sun energy and then allow it to travel through wires to an object called a fused array combiner. The combiner is what leads us to the last step when all the magic happens. The energy is sent through an inverter which takes the current electricity and alternates the electrical current into a usable power source.

Now that we understand the interworking’s of the solar panels, it is equally — if not more — important to understand the external factors that impact the production of electricity such as shade, seasons, and tilt. For homes that may be lacking copious amounts of sunlight due to protruding objects like trees, buildings, etc., this can greatly limit the amount of available solar energy to your potential panels.

While trees can often times be trimmed, buildings, water towers, and more substantial entities cannot be moved and should be highly considered when purchasing residential solar panels. Although the sun energy is vast and barely effected by clouds or temperature, it is still important to recognize the aspects that come with the change of seasons or in other words, the extremity of them.

Snow may seem like a for sure indicator of poor energy absorption, but in certain scenarios it can reflect light and actually increase panel performance, unless of course the panels are covered preventing optimal sun exposure. The other aspect of seasonal change is — depending on your geographical location — the suns position in the sky throughout the year and therefore the optimal angle of sunlight reaching your home.

It can be important to know all of the factors, inside and out, that will be allowing your home to produce an ample amount of electricity or any electricity at all. While it may not be necessary to know the interworking’s of the glass panels installed to your roof, understanding the panels can help the process of adding a system to your house make a little more sense and possibly encourage the move to solar.



Solar Opportunities is a Full-Service Solar Consultation, Design and Install company services Pennsylvania. Our cutting edge design platform enables inquiring minds to access all the information they need to know in a clear, transparent fashion in a short amount of time. Systems can be designed from satellite imagery for residential, commercial and agricultural properties. For more information, visit us at, email us at or call us at 570-637-6384.


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