How do solar photovoltaics (PV) actually work?

Here is a simple explanation of how a solar PV cell works.

Solar cell

Photo credit: ReKnew Energy Systems

  1. When sunlight shines on a solar panel some of the energy is absorbed by the semiconductor material.
  2. One layer of the solar cell consists of silicon mixed with boron which gives it a positive charge (p-type).
  3. Another layer consists of silicon mixed with phosphorous which gives it a negative charge (n-type).
  4. The sunlight provides additional energy to the electrons allowing them to flow through a circuit in the form of current, which will power connected loads.


This video from Advanced Green Technologies (AGT) gives a good overview as well: