Experiments with Solar Shingles
How does a photovoltaic panel work?
A photovoltaic cell is a semiconductor. When light hits the photovoltaic (or PV) cell, the light can be reflected or absorbed or it can pass through the cell.
If the light is absorbed into the cell, the light's energy is transferred
to the electrons in the semiconductor. This causes the electrons to flow,
creating an electrical current.
We can learn how PV cells work by experimenting with light emitting diodes (LEDs), because both are semiconductors.
What is a diode?Diodes are semiconductors that allow electricity to flow in one direction but not the other like a one way valve for electricity. The positive side of the diode is called the anode. The negative side is called the cathode. Current always flows from the anode to the cathode.
A Light-Emitting Diode (LED) is a diode that emits light. The two small arrows pointing away from the diode represent light energy being emitted.
How many LEDs can you light?Materials and Tools
This activity was created by Emily Wilson, Lemelson Center
All text and images © Smithsonian Institution. Updated 26 February 1999.