How Do Solar Panels Work For Kids

More and more people want solar panels each year, which is why you might see them in lots of places. You may have seen them on top of roofs, or many of them in fields. As solar power is going to be a big part of our future, you should probably know how they work! Follow us through this fun and easy guide on how solar panels work to power your homes.

How do Solar Panels work?

The sun produces energy called solar energy. This solar energy then travels all the way from the sun, down to earth. If the travelling solar energy reaches a solar panel, it can be used to create electricity. A solar panel is full of combined solar cells, also known as photovoltaic (PV) cells. They are then placed on the top of roofs of buildings, or in fields, anywhere they are sure to get plenty of sunlight, really!


How do photovoltaic cells work? When sunlight, and therefore, the solar energy, is captured by these photovoltaic cells in the solar panels, they excite the electrons in the cells, giving them energy! A direct current is then created in each of the joined solar PV cells. Electricity is then produced by this current, and is almost ready for use in your home, or wherever you need it (this includes charging electric cars, and heating your water!!). 

Before you can use this electricity, it needs to go through a solar inverter. This is because it will change this electricity into an alternating current instead of a direct current. Now, the electricity made is ready for you to use! You can then sell any of the electricity you don’t use, back to the National Grid. 

The National Grid is where you can get electricity from when your solar panels aren’t working, or if you don’t have any solar panels. When your solar panels aren’t working, you can then get some of your electricity back from the National Grid, for you to use.

When do solar panels stop working? Solar panels stop working as soon as the sun goes down, because there’s no solar energy to be collected! They do, though, work when it’s cloudy and you can’t see the sun at all. This is because sun rays can still go through the clouds, even though you cannot see them. Very cool!

What are the benefits of solar panels?

  • Solar energy can never be used up- unlike coal, oil and gas, which are known as fossil fuels, the energy provided by the sun will never run out. Not for at least 5 billion years, anyway. This is what you know as, Renewable Energy!
  • Solar power does not cause any pollution- the electricity created by the solar panels releases no smoke, or anything that may harm the environment, for example, gases like Carbon Dioxide. Meaning, it is completely pollution-free!
  • Solar energy can be made in remote places- an example of this is; if you live somewhere where the National Grid can’t get energy to you, the solar panels will provide energy to you instead!
  • Solar panels are a reliable source of energy- even though they do not work through the night, as long as they are not blocked by trees or anything, they will work all day long. Even when the sun is hiding behind some clouds!
  • Solar panels are not noisy.
  • You can make money from solar panels- if you make more energy than you can use, you can sell the leftover energy to the National Grid for others to use!


What are the disadvantages of solar panels?

  • Buying solar panels can be very expensive- all of the gear you’ll need to install solar panels is very expensive. From the panels themselves, to hiring a handyman to install them for you!
  • Less efficient in cloudy countries- like us living in the UK! Although solar panels do work when it’s cloudy, they are much less efficient than they would be in a sunny country like Australia.


Why is Renewable Energy so great?

Renewable energy, also known as green or clean energy, can be made from anything natural and recurring. This means it can never be used up, or it can never run out. Examples of  things that can make renewable energy are; solar panels, wind turbines, and water turbines! 

Energy made by any of these, and other forms of renewable energy, are important because they don’t pollute our earth, or release harmful gases into our atmosphere! Unfortunately, we can’t rely on renewable energy yet! So we have to use fossil fuels, which are non-renewable energy. This means one day we will run out of these things! Fossil fuels release harmful gases into our air, polluting our world… It’s very important that the scientists of today find a way for us to be able to use and store renewable energy at all times, so that we don’t have to rely on these nasty fossil fuels.

Even the materials that make up solar panels are renewable. The main element of solar panels is Silicone, which is the second most abundant element on this earth (oxygen is number one!).

Silicone is found in rocks and sand, this means there will always be enough silicone on earth for us to make more and more solar panels for renewable energy!

Have a look at the picture! What is shows is silicone atoms as the main component of a Solar PV cell.

Some fun facts about the sun and Solar Energy!

  1. In 1839, the first photovoltaic cell was made by a 19 year old physicist called Alexandre Edmond Becquerel.
  2. The sun is the closest star to our earth.
  3. In 1954, the first high-powered silicone solar PV cell was made by physicists at Bell Labs in New Jersey, America.
  4. The Sun gives Earth more energy in one day than we could use in a year! It is the most abundant source of energy on earth.
  5. Solar panels can even work when the weather is cloudy!
  6. Solar panels can even power aeroplanes- some big aeroplane companies are putting a lot of money into building solar powered aeroplanes.
  7. If you have an electric car, you can even connect them to your solar panels to help charge them too.
  8. The world’s largest solar plant covers more than 1000 acres, and is found in California in the Mojave Desert.
  9. The average expectancy for a solar panel to last is 25-30 years!
  10. It takes eight minutes, also known as the speed of light, for the sun’s light to reach earth and therefore, provide us with solar energy.
  11. What is the sun made out of? The sun’s centre is made up of the gases hydrogen and helium.
  12. Do you know how old the sun is? It’s over 4.5 billion years old.