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Physics Case Study Solar Electric Panels

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Physics Case Study – Solar Electric Panels

The case study is the physics of solar electric panels and how they work. I am going to discuss the process in which these panels operate and their implications to society and their benefits and risks.

The physics of solar panel cells

How light interacts with the solar cells

When light hits a solar panel, the solar panel material can reflect, transmit or absorb the light. When light does the latter of the three options, energy is transferred from the photons that make up light into the atoms of the material. If the energy of the photon, determined by the frequency, is higher than a specific level, it will cause an electron-hole pair. The process is known as the photoelectric effect.  The specific energy level that is required signifies the ‘band gap’ between the valence and the conduction band. These bands are ranges of energy levels in which electrons rest at when under no excitation.

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Figure 2. Diagram to show n-p junction[2]


How light creates electricity

When a photon of light creates an electron-hole pair on the n-type semiconductor, and it moves to the space charge region, the electron will diffuse to the p-type semiconductor. By creating an external link from the p-type to the n-type semiconductors, the electric field will move the electron back to the n-type side to join back with the positive hole. The energy the electric field exerted to move the electron from the p-type side to the n-type side is the work done, and the movement of the charge is a current.

Implications to society


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Practical investigation

I will be investigating the internal resistance of a solar cell to theoretically predict the maximum power output of the solar cell. By finding the internal resistance, I can match the internal resistance with the resistance of the external load for maximum power output. By doing so, I can theoretically find the efficiency of the solar cell.

By Jonathan Gee


  • Edexcel AS Physics Students’ Book
  • Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_solar_cells, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-n_junction
  • Howstuffworks - http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/solar-cell.htm
  • My teacher – The Boswells School

[1] Taken from Edexcel AS Physics Students’ Book

[2] Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-n_junction

[3] Taken from background information given from teacher

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