British Science Week: How do Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels are now a frequent sight. All around the UK you can see them fitted on people’s roofs. These are photovoltaic, or PV, solar panels, which change sunlight into electricity.

If you’re contemplating installing PV solar panels, or even already have them, it is valuable to know about solar power, panels and cells.

As it is British Science Week, we decided we’d take the chance to tell you a bit about PV solar panels and how they work.

When was solar power invented?

The photoelectric effect was first noticed in 1839, by a physicist named Edmund Bequerel. He found that some materials produce a small electric charge when exposed to sunlight. In 1905, Albert Einstein developed Bequerel’s work further by describing the nature of light and the photoelectric effect. Both Bequerel and Einstein’s findings provided the foundation of solar power technology today.

What’s a solar panel?

A solar panel consists of numerous solar cells. These are small devices that change sunlight into electrical power. Solar cells do not make much electricity on their own, but joined together in a solar panel they make significantly more.

PV solar panels were created during the mid-20th century and were first used on space crafts in the 1960s. As technology developed the panels became smaller and less expensive. Now solar panels are affordable and suitable for domestic use.

Solar cell diagram from

How do solar cells work?

Each solar cell has two silicon layers that sit on top of each other. These two layers have been specially treated so that the electrons in the top layer want to move to the bottom layer. When sunlight touches a solar cell, it gives the electrons energy to move. The movement of the electrons between layers generates electrical power.

Once the electricity has been generated, it has to be chanelled through an inverter. This switches it from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current). After it’s been changed to AC, the solar power can be used to power your home.

So now you should know a bit more about solar panels and how they operate. If you’re thinking about installing solar panels and want to find out more about them, we can help. For info on the advantages and disadvantages of different installation sizes, see our articles on 1kW, 2kW, 3kW and 4kW systems. And to learn more about the economic benefits of solar panels, see our article on why it is time to go solar in 2017.

Evy Coe

Evy works for Quotatis as a Content Marketing Executive. She loves to write about interior design and help homeowners with their DIY projects.