Solar Cells: How Solar Panels Work

Solar Cells: How Solar Panels Work

Solar cells use sunlight to generate energy. Proper placement of solar cells maximizes energy productivity.


5 - 8


Earth Science, Engineering

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Idea for the Classroom

Introduce students to the science behind solar cells and how they work. Then, using the infographic, ask students to answer the questions below:

  1. What is a simplified, general idea of what solar panels do?
  2. What is the role of the charged layers of a solar panel? Why are they necessary?
  3. How is this process similar to how a battery works? (Students may need extra background on this)
  4. Describe the process of using sunlight to generate electric current.
  5. What is the primary difference between a solar cell that runs a typical calculator compared to a solar array that drives electricity in a home?
  6. Do you think that solar panels work during cloudy days? Why or why not?

After students have discussed the answers, present them with this situation (they may work on this individually or in pairs): A homeowner decides to have solar panels placed on their house. Imagine you are the engineer determining where to place the solar cells. Ask: Where would you place them? Why would you place them there? How would you determine this? If your budget was limited, what are some other investments you might make to reduce the overall cost of installing solar panels?

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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