How does a photovoltaic (PV) solar panel work?

A photovoltaic (PV) cell converts the energy from light (photo) to electrical (volt) in one step. The way the cells do this trick is complicated and it depends on the type of cell technology. But it can be thought of this way: as light is absorbed by the cell, a light wave kicks an electron up an electrical hill. This electron now has more energy since it can drop back down the hill later.

A solar panel is made from many such cells, each of which has many electrons that have been kicked up the hill. These cells are all connected together and it adds up to a lot of electrons ready and waiting to fall back down that hill. So the photovoltaic panel is kind of like a big battery, with one side having electricity wanting to get to the other side. So there’s the power, but how is it changed from “a big battery thing” to the kind of electricity you can use to power a house? That’s the job of a gadget called an inverter.

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