Editorial Feature

How Do Residential Solar Panels Work?

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Dotted all around the UK are homes with solar panels affixed to their roofs, and together they generate around 6.14 GW of power; double the capacity of the largest fossil fuel power station in the country.

Solar Energy

Homeowners have seen the potential of solar energy to reduce their electricity bills and the carbon footprint of their home – particularly poignant as the world is becoming more environmentally conscious.

A standard solar panel consists of photovoltaic cells sandwiched between layers of semiconducting materials like silicon, each layer possessing different electronic properties. Silicon is a non-metal with conductive properties which allows it to absorb sunlight and convert it to electricity. When light interacts with the silicon, it causes electrons to be set in motion which leads to the flow of electricity. Known as the photoelectric effect, this creates the current needed to produce electricity.

However, the photovoltaic cells produce a direct current (DC), so inverter technology is required to convert it into a useable alternating current (AC) which can be fed into the home’s electrical panel for use by the homeowner.

A glass casing provides durability and protection. Under the clear exterior the panel has a layer of insulation, which protects the device from increases in temperature that can cause a drop in efficiency and performance. A protective back sheet guards against heat dissipation and humidity inside the panel, while an anti-reflective coating increases the amount sunlight that can be absorbed and allows the silicon cells to receive maximum sunlight exposure.

Solar Panels Offer Guaranteed Power

Solar panels offer guaranteed power when the sun is shining, with consistent, stable generation throughout the day. The UK might not seem the most ideal place for solar panels, especially on the small scale of someone’s roof. In fact, the UK is ideal; it receives eight hours of sunlight a day all year round, without extremes in temperature.

While it is true that more electricity is produced on sunny days, solar cells work even when it is cloudy and overcast. The panels react to the visible light spectrum, so provided you can see then there is enough light to start generating electricity! On cloudy days, the efficiency of a solar panel might be reduced by around 50% compared to direct sunlight and if less electricity is produced than is required, the homeowner would just draw power from the National Grid as normal.

On bright sunny days, it is likely that more electricity will be produced than the homeowner requires. In this case, the energy could be stored in a battery storage system, which is becoming more prevalent, or in immersion heaters connected to the panels. In most cases, excess energy is fed into the National Grid at an agreed rate through the Feed-in-Tariff scheme.

Solar panels are always on, and for homeowners to make the most of the free energy generated by the panels they need to use more electricity during the day. This might mean running the washing machine and dishwasher or charging electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops during the day.

Benefits of Solar Panels

Although the initial cost to install solar panels might be high for homeowners, the benefits outweigh the negatives. They require little to no maintenance, just an occasional cleaning to keep it free of dirt and debris. They also come with a 25-year manufacturer’s performance guarantee and will last a further 10 to 15 years after this. The inverter, which converts DC from the panels to AC for the grid, will need replacing after 12 to 15 years.


Furthermore, solar panels take up less space than other renewable technologies and can be installed in a wide range of spaces, although large south facing roofs are preferable. Solar panels are also safe; the photovoltaic cells pose no threat of leaking or emitting toxins or fumes, and while generating electricity the cells produce no noise pollution.

Sources and Further Reading

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Kerry Taylor-Smith

Written by

Kerry Taylor-Smith

Kerry has been a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader since 2016, specializing in science and health-related subjects. She has a degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Bath and is based in the UK.


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