Solar Cells


The basic idea of a solar cell is to convert light energy into electrical energy. The energy of light is transmitted by photons, small packets or quantums of light. Electrical energy is stored in electromagnetic fields, which in turn can make a current of electrons flow. Thus a solar cell converts light, a flow of photons, to electric current, a flow of electrons.

When photons are absorbed by matter in the solar cell, their energy excites electrons higher energy states where the electrons can move more freely. The perhaps most well-known example of this is the photoelectric effect, where photons give electrons in a metal enough energy to escape the surface. In an ordinary material, if the electrons are not given enough energy to escape, they would soon relax back to their ground states. In a solar cell however, the way it is put together prevents this from happening. The electrons are instead forced to one side of the solar cell, where the build-up of negative charge makes a current flow through an external circuit. The current ends up at the other side (or terminal) of the solar cell, where the electrons once again enter the ground state, as they have lost energy in the external circuit.



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