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How Do Solar Panels Work?

  • By Stephanie Chasteen and Rima Chaddha
  • Posted 04.24.07
  • NOVA

We've seen them for years on rooftops, atop highway warning signs, and elsewhere, but how many of us know how solar panels actually work? How do the photovoltaic cells that lie at the heart of them turn sunlight ("photo") into electricity ("voltaic")? In this feature, familiarize yourself with the parts of a basic photovoltaic cell, and find out how it goes about harnessing the free energy of the sun.

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Go inside a photovoltaic cell and see how solar panels work to convert sunlight into electricity.

This feature originally appeared on the site for the NOVA program Saved By the Sun.

Stephanie Chasteen is a postdoctoral fellow in physics at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. She earned a Ph.D. in physics at UC Santa Cruz, where she researched ways to generate solar energy from semiconducting plastics. Rima Chaddha is an assistant editor of NOVA online.

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© NOVA/WGBH Educational Foundation

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