How solar cells work

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells, are semiconductor devices that convert sunlight directly into electricity through a phenomenon called the photovoltaic effect. This process involves the interaction of photons (light particles) with materials to generate an electric current. Here's a detailed explanation of how solar cells work:

1. Semiconductor Material: Solar cells are typically made from semiconductor materials, commonly silicon. Silicon has unique electronic properties that make it suitable for generating electricity from sunlight.

2. Absorption of Photons: When sunlight (composed of photons) strikes the surface of the solar cell, the photons are absorbed by the semiconductor material. Each photon carries energy corresponding to its wavelength, and this energy is used to liberate electrons from their atomic orbits.

3. Generation of Electron-Hole Pairs: When a photon's energy is absorbed by the semiconductor material, it creates an "electron-hole pair." The photon transfers its energy to an electron in the semiconductor, freeing it from its normal position in an atom's electron shell. This creates a positively charged "hole" where the electron used to be.

4. Electric Field and Charge Separation: The semiconductor material is intentionally doped (infused with impurities) to create a difference in electron concentration between two sides of the material. This creates an electric field within the material. As electron-hole pairs are generated by absorbed photons, they are separated by this electric field. Electrons are pushed toward the negatively doped side (n-type) of the material, while holes move toward the positively doped side (p-type).

5. Creation of Voltage and Current: The separation of charges creates a voltage difference between the two sides of the semiconductor material. This voltage difference is what drives the flow of electrons, creating an electric current. The generated current can then be harvested and used for various applications.

6. Metal Contacts: Metal contacts are placed on the two sides of the semiconductor material to collect the generated current. These contacts provide a path for the current to flow out of the solar cell and be utilized for powering devices.

7. External Circuit: To make use of the generated current, an external electrical circuit is connected to the metal contacts of the solar cell. This circuit can include loads such as light bulbs, appliances, or batteries, which consume the generated electricity.

8. Continuous Process: As long as sunlight is available, the process of photon absorption, electron-hole pair generation, charge separation, and current flow continues, producing a continuous supply of electricity as long as the solar cell is exposed to light.

Different types of solar cell designs, such as monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film, employ variations in materials and structures while relying on the same fundamental principles of the photovoltaic effect. Advances in solar cell technology aim to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and overall performance, making solar energy an increasingly viable and sustainable source of electricity.

Prasun Barua

Prasun Barua is an Engineer (Electrical & Electronic) and Member of the European Energy Centre (EEC). His first published book Green Planet is all about green technologies and science. His other published books are Solar PV System Design and Technology, Electricity from Renewable Energy, Tech Know Solar PV System, C Coding Practice, AI and Robotics Overview, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Know How Solar PV System, Know The Product, Solar PV Technology Overview, Home Appliances Overview, Tech Know Solar PV System, C Programming Practice, etc. These books are available at Google Books, Google Play, Amazon and other platforms.


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