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What are solar panels and how do they work?

What Are Solar Panels?

Six Panel Solar Array on Rooftop

In simple terms, solar panels are a panel that converts solar energy into electricity. However, a solar panel works a little more complex than this definition.

In fact, in order to convert solar energy into electricity, photovoltaic cells are placed on the panel. The main component of these cells is a piece of semiconducting material. When sunlight hits the solar cell, it releases energy in the form of electrons. The solar panel then delivers direct voltage.

When the panel is connected to an inverter, alternating current can be obtained. This energy can be used directly by the connected devices.

In practice, standard panels measuring about 1.6 square meters are usually used.

With solar panels on the roof of your home, you can generate your own energy. This is a form of renewable energy. On this page we explain how solar panels work and where you can buy them.

Temporarily fewer energy contracts

Due to high energy prices and events in Ukraine, there is currently less supply in energy contracts.

How do solar panels work?

Before purchasing solar panels, it is important to know how a solar panel works. This page gives you information about how solar panels and components of a solar power system work.

Solar panels make use of sunlight. A solar panel consists of several solar cells. A solar cell consists of two layers of silicon between which an electric current is created when light hits it. This current is converted into usable power by an inverter. Your meter box distributes the power throughout the house. You can sell the power you don't use back to your power supplier.

The operation of a solar cell

In general, a solar cell is made of silicon. Silicon is a semiconductor and consists of two layers separated by a chemical addition. This allows a voltage difference to occur across the separation plane.

Because the process surrounding solar energy is very complex, we explain it here for you in 5 simple steps:

1. Sunlight interacts with silicon

The moment sunlight comes into contact with the silicon, an electric current is created. Solar cells are therefore also called photovoltaic cells. "Photos" means light in Greek and "volt" is the unit that stands for electrical voltage.

2. Electrons are released

The electric current occurs because the substance silicon is semiconducting. This means that atomic compounds can be easily broken. When this happens, electrons are released, making the material conductive.

3. Negative charge activation

This means that the released electrons leave a hole that can be filled with a neighboring electron. The hole in this case creates a positive charge and the electron creates a negative charge. So basically, the operation is the same as in a normal battery. However, the process of solar panels is triggered because photons in sunlight cause the negative charge to be activated. Thus, the negative charge can then "jump" to the positive charge.

4. Turning energy into power for your home

Of course, you want to be able to use the power generated by the solar cell in your home. Step four of the process takes care of this. What is required for this is an inverter. The solar panel sends the generated energy to the inverter, which then transforms this direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC). It is then sent to the fuse box. From here the power is sent to the electrical appliances you use.


When there is a surplus of electricity produced, the electricity meter reverses. In this way, you supply electricity to the electricity grid and can earn money from it. This process is called net-metering.

What is the benefit of solar panels?

Solar Collector

The advantage of solar panels is that they allow you to generate your own electricity. As a result, you use less power from the energy grid and save on your energy costs. The moment you generate more energy than you use, you receive compensation for this and can make use of a feed-in tariff. In time, you will have recouped the purchase price of the solar panels and you will take full advantage of the solar panels.

Good to know: solar panels are sometimes confused with solar collectors. The difference is that solar collectors convert sunlight into heat, while solar panels convert sunlight into electricity.

Where can I buy solar panels?

There are different types of solar panels. Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular and there are more and more providers. You can also search for a provider yourself and request a quote from there. Many providers use Google Earth and some additional information to provide a quote. It is wise to get a quote from several providers and compare them.

Who installs the solar panels?

There may be a difference between the provider and the installer. The provider hires the installer to install the solar panels. Each provider may have a different installer. If you want to know who will come to install the solar panels, it is best to check with the solar panel supplier.

What is feed-in to the energy grid?

The moment the solar panels generate more power than you need, you cannot store this power at this time. There are no possibilities yet to store power and use it later. The excess power generated is therefore returned to the energy grid.

If you have an old meter that can roll back, it will roll back at that time. If you have a smart meter, it keeps track of how much is being fed back on a separate counter.

Compare energy with solar panels

Want to know how to compare energy if you have solar panels? It's good to know that with solar panels, you'll buy less energy from your energy provider. It affects your energy rates. And you receive a feed-in compensation if you feed energy back. You can read exactly what to look out for on our page about comparing energy with solar panels.

Do you have solar panels and are looking for a new energy supplier? Then you have come to the right place. In our energy comparer you can also include your generated energy. This allows you to immediately see which energy supplier best suits your situation.

What is solar energy offsetting?

Balancing means that the energy delivered back is offset against consumption. Do you generate more energy than you need? Then you will receive compensation for this from your energy supplier. The amount varies. If the generated energy is lower than your consumption, you pay the normal delivery rate for the extra energy you need from your energy supplier. The method of balancing may be different with a single meter than with a dual meter.

How do energy suppliers handle net-metering?

Energy suppliers deal with balancing and feeding back your generation in different ways. In our comparison we have taken this into account. If you make an energy comparison, you can see how your preferred supplier does this.

What does a solar energy system consist of?

In addition to the solar panels on the roof, a solar power system consists of an inverter, cabling, additional ground fault circuit breaker in the meter box and preferably a system for monitoring as well.

Most inverters come with a monitoring system. Using this system, you can see how much your solar panels are actually producing. This is not possible without monitoring, because sometimes the power you consume directly yourself does not equal what you feed back to the grid through your electricity meter.

In addition, monitoring systems are increasingly equipped with, for example, a Wi-Fi connection. This makes it possible to view the information on tablet, smartphone or PC.