Understanding How Solar Panels Work

What is a Solar Panel Made Of? 

A single solar module is made up of silicon crystals that absorb sunlight to turn into electricity. They’re protected by a metal framing system and glass, still letting all the necessary wiring through. There’s a layer underneath the glass for insulation, and a coating on the glass that increases the absorption of sunlight. This is then placed on your roof, on a mount, or on a nearby area that receives good amounts of sunlight.

Photovoltaic Effect

The interaction of light on a solar cell is called the “photovoltaic effect”. When light hits the silicon crystals within a solar panel, it triggers electrons to move - causing a flow of electric current. This movement of electrons is referred to as “direct current”. The panel’s wiring captures the direct current and feeds it into a solar converter. There it is converted to alternating current (AC) electricity, and available for us to use. Panels are rated on performance based on the amount of DC current they produce.

Understanding Wattage 

An important factor to understand if you’re considering solar is wattage, or output. Common amounts of wattage are 245W, 300W, or 345W. Most panels generate between 250-400W. If you’re receiving a quote, it’s good to know what all this means. This refers to a solar panel’s capacity and power output. The price of the solar panel is typically based on the total amount of power outputted by the system (which is expressed in watts)

For example’s sake, If you’re getting 6 hours of sunlight on your home/business roof every day, multiply that by the amount of watts your panel has. Take a 290 watt panel for example. 6 x 290 = 1740 kWh (kilo-watt hours) per day. One single panel with 290W, producing 1.7 kWh per day, would be enough to power small appliances but not reliable for anything too large. For that, you’d need more panels. Another point to add is that the power of the panel is not only dependent on the amount of watts, but also the efficiency. For example, take one panel with 300W and another with 350W, both with an efficiency rating of 20%. This means that the 350W panel is 20 percent physically larger than the 250-watt panel. This is why it’s important to get professional help when shopping around for a panel, so you can have someone help you weigh out the pros and cons aside from the amount of Watts.


While solar technology is advancing every day, the fundamentals never change. Understanding how solar energy works should be the first step to finding out if it’s right for your home. Why install a solar system if you have no idea how it all works?