How do solar panels work?

Our guide simplifies solar technology, explaining how solar panels work in under 5 minutes.

February 14, 2024
Should I get solar panels?

Our homes make up a fourth of our carbon footprint, but these emissions can be difficult to reduce. That’s why solar panels are on the rise. For many households, using solar panels to generate electricity can save as much as a tonne of CO2 per year! And the annual cash saving can be substantial too.

However, choosing the right solar panel system can be difficult. With more and more options becoming available, it's extremely useful to know the basics (and some of the less basic too!). We're here to get you up to speed on the key things in 5 minutes or less!

How do solar panels generate electricity?

Solar Panels contain a Photovoltaic (PV) material that allows them to convert light energy into electricity. This is why electric solar panels are sometimes called Solar PV, Photovoltaic panels, or PV panels. The stronger and more intense the sunlight, the more electricity it can generate. They are different from Solar Thermal panels which are used for heating hot water.

Do solar panels produce AC or DC electricity?

The electricity produced by a solar panel is direct current (DC) which needs to be converted to alternating current (AC), which is what we use in our home. To do this, the panels are connected to a solar inverter which is a briefcase-sized unit that usually sits in your loft, under the stairs or in another out-of-the-way location. The size of the inverter that you need will be determined by the size of your system.

Solar panels produce how many watts per hour?

Solar panels, either individually or as a system, are rated in watts (W) or kilowatts (kW) of power. When considering getting a solar panel system, the power output is one of the key things that you should be considering. Our handy, impartial, and completely free tool can provide you with an initial estimate of the best-sized system for your property, based on how much space for panels you have and how much energy you need.

Different panels have a different output. The ones that we install, for example, typically have a 365W output. So, if you had 10 of these panels, the maximum output you could get at any time would be 3650W (that’s 3.65kW).

How much energy does a solar panel produce?

Have a look in the table below for a few more examples of how much energy different amounts of solar panels could produce.

Size of panelNumber of panelsMaximum output365W1 panel0.365kW365W12 panels4.380kW365W14 panels5.110kW365W16 panels5.840kW365W17 panels6.205kW

Note that if the proposed peak output of your system is greater than 4.68kW, then you will need to get the installation approved by your local District Network Operator (DNO). If you book an installation with us, we’ll submit the application for you! If you need to make the application yourself, you can find your DNO here.

How long do solar panels last?

The short answer is that we’re seeing solar panels consistently produce good amounts of power for 25+ years. The longer answer is that it depends on the type of solar panel, and on a few additional factors as well. You can read more about the efficiency of solar panels and how it changes over time here.

What's the difference between mono & poly?

The photovoltaic material that generates the electricity is made from silicon (sand!) crystals. These can be made in one of two ways: cut from a single “slab” (mono) or cut from a melted and remoulded group of silicon crystals (poly). The mono-crystalline panels tend to be more efficient, converting 15-22% of sunlight, whereas the poly-crystalline panels are slightly less efficient; 13-18%. The manufacturing processes not only create panels with different efficiencies but also different costs. The mono-crystalline panels tend to be slightly more expensive than the poly-crystalline panels.

There are also thin-film panels, made of a different material called Cadmium-Telluride which are the cheapest but also least efficient. As they literally are “thin-film”, they are flexible and lightweight, making them ideal for travel, for example, rooftop panels on camper vans, or on rooftops that aren't designed for additional weight, for example, large commercial properties such as warehouses.

For most domestic applications, mono or poly-crystalline silicon panels are best.

How long does a solar power installation take?

Most domestic solar panels installations take place in a day.

What is the process of getting solar panels?

Our process is extremely straightforward, if we may say so ourselves:

1. Spend 5 minutes on our platform (you’ll find the MakeMyHouseGreen platform here) and we’ll give you an accurate understanding of how much money and carbon you can save, as well as an estimation of the cost of solar panel installation.

2. Your solar panels quotes are just a click away with: “Get quote”!

3. Book a call with a Green Homes Guru, your own money saving expert on everything solar panels, who will then provide detailed options for you and your home.

4. Book a remote survey to finalise details.

5. Book the install.

6.Make your own electricity!

Now that you're an expert in solar panels, you should be in a much better position to make the right choice for your system. We cover more about other system aspects in other articles. but if you have any questions in the meantime, check out our Guru FAQS or drop us an email via

Recommended Guides:

- Are solar panels worth it in the uk?

- How many solar panels will fit on my roof?

- Do smart meters work with solar panels?

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