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How photovoltaic modules work

Electricity from solar energy is generated by solar cells whose main component is a semiconductor (normally silicon, more recently also e.g. a copper-indium-diselenid DIS composite). A semiconductor is a material that is neither insulator nor conductor and whose electrical properties can only be influenced to a considerable extent by adding foreign substances.

The solar cell consists of two adjoining semiconductor layers that have been doped in such a way that a so-called n-type layer (n=negative) with an excess of electrons and a subjacent "p-type layer" (p=positive) with an electron deficiency are formed.

The n-type layer of a solar cell is so thin that the photons of the incident sunlight penetrate the layer before releasing their energy in the form of an electron in the electric field (space-charge region). The free electron follows the inner electric field and thus meets with the metallic contacts of the n-type layer.

Once a consumer is connected, the electric circuit is closed. This is referred to as the "photovoltaic effect" (composed of the Greek word for light, "phos", and the name of the physicist Alessandro Volta). The direct current generated by the solar cell is then converted by an inverter into alternating current.