How Solar Energy Works

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The solar photovoltaic (PV) effect is the process by which sunlight is converted directly into electricity. In 1839, Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist, discovered the process of producing an electric current in a solid material using sunlight. But it wasn’t until 1954 that scientists at Bell Telephone discovered that, when exposed to sunlight, silicon created an electric charge.

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Photo Credit: Total.com

Photovoltaic energy has been used to power small items like wristwatches and calculators. But there are ways to use solar PV technology to generate electricity on a much larger scale:

Monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon and thin film solar panels use small squares – cells – of conductive material to produce electricity for homes and businesses.

Photovoltaic cells are combined onto a panel (also called a module). A collection of panels is referred to as an array. Learn more about types of solar panels.


Concentrated photovoltaics are used for large-scale applications. These use mirrors to direct sunlight to a very small area of highly efficient photovoltaic material. In concentrating solar power systems, the sunlight is converted to heat energy, which is then used to drive a generator or steam turbine.

Learn more about the advantages of solar energy.

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