How do solar panels work? A homeowner’s guide

Solar panels are a popular way for homeowners to save money on their energy bills and do their part to reduce their carbon footprint. If you’re thinking about installing solar panels at home, you might have one big question in mind: how do solar panels work?

In this blog post, we’ll break down everything you need to know about how solar panels work – from the basics of solar energy to whether or not your property is suitable for solar panel installation.

Solar panels on a roof

The basics of solar energy 

Let’s start with the basics: what is solar energy, and where does it come from? Solar energy is simply energy that comes from the sun. The sun is a huge star that emits huge amounts of energy in the form of sunlight. This sunlight contains lots of different types of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light, infrared radiation, and ultraviolet radiation 

Solar panels are designed to capture this sunlight and convert it into electricity. They do this using a process called the photovoltaic effect. Photovoltaics is a field of physics that studies the interaction between light and matter. The photovoltaic effect is what happens when certain materials are exposed to light. Some materials, like silicon, absorb photons from sunlight and release electrons. These electrons can then be harnessed to generate electricity. 

You’ll often see people refer to solar panels as photovoltaic or PV panels.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels are made up of many individual solar cells. These cells are typically made from silicon, which as mentioned above, is a material that can absorb photons and release electrons when exposed to sunlight. Each solar cell has two different layers of silicon: a layer of p-type silicon and a layer of n-type silicon. The p-type layer has been treated so that it contains lots of “holes” for electrons to move around in. The n-type layer has been treated so that it contains lots of extra electrons 

When the sun shines on a solar panel, photons from the sunlight knock electrons loose from the atoms in the silicon layers. The electrons flow through the holes in the p-type layer to the n-type layer, where they’re collected by metal contacts. From there, these electrons can flow through an external circuit, where they can power things like your house or your car! 

Types of solar panels

There are four main types of solar panels available, and each features different properties.

  • Mono-crystalline solar panels. Made from a single crystal of silicon, these are the most efficient type of solar panels and are popular in both commercial and residential settings.
  • Poly-crystalline solar panels. These are made of small crystals that give them a matte finish. They’re usually more affordable than mono-crystalline panels but are considered less efficient.
  • Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) panels. PERC solar panels are an improvement on traditional mono-crystalline cells. They include a passivation layer in the rear surface of the cell which reflects light back into the cell.
  • Thin-film panels. These are constructed from thin layers of semiconductor materials that can be applied to a variety of bases, including glass, plastic, and metal. They’re usually cheaper than mono-crystalline and polycrystalline options.

Is my property suitable for solar panel installation?

Technically, any property is suitable for solar panel installation. However, there are a few factors that need to consider to determine if solar panels will yield much energy.

  1. Firstly, how much sunlight does your property get? As expected, solar panels rely on sunlight to generate power, so a property that doesn’t receive much sunlight is not ideal for this form of energy source.
  2. Secondly, you need to consider the size and orientation of your property. Solar panels work best in an open area with a south-facing slope in order to maximise their power output. Can your home accommodate this?
  3. Finally, what’s the local climate like? Solar panels perform well in warm, sunny climates, so properties located in colder, cloudier regions may not benefit from solar panels.

However, with careful planning and consideration, solar panel installation can be a great option for almost any type of property.

If you’re ready to go ahead and install photovoltaic panels to your property roof, check out our solar panel installation guide

Person installing solar panels on a roof

How much do solar panels cost?

Solar panels prices have dropped significantly in recent years, making them a more viable option for homeowners looking to reduce energy costs.

There are many factors that affect solar panel costs – from the type of PV panel you opt for to the size of coverage you need. However, as a general rule of thumb, you’re probably looking at between £2,900 and £9,000, depending on your property size.

Many solar panel companies offer financing options that can make the upfront cost more manageable so it’s worth shopping around for a good deal. Because solar panels typically last 20 to 30 years, they can provide long-term savings on your energy bill. And because solar panels produce clean, renewable energy, they can help you do your part to protect the environment. 

For a more in-depth breakdown of solar panel prices, take a look at our guide to how much solar panels cost.

Find a great deal with SpotDif

Solar panels are a great way to reduce your impact on the environment whilst saving money. But if you want to find the best deal possible on solar panel installation, SpotDif can help. We compare hundreds of home deals from providers local to you. 

Simply select your location and explore our solar panel offers near you.


Thomas Kupai is a Specialist in Home Services for Spotdif. He helps customers find the best deal on home services.

Tom is an inventive problem solver and has a knack for finding creative solutions to difficult problems. He loves his work at Spotdif, where he helps customers find the best deal on home services. Tom takes great pride in his work and always puts the needs of others first.

He is a creative thinker who enjoys coming up with new ways to save people money. He takes pride in his work and loves helping others find what they need at a price they can afford. When he’s not working, Thomas enjoys spending time with his family and friends. He is an avid reader and loves learning new things.


Thomas Kupai

Specialist in Business Services

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