Solar panels transform energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation into electrical energy you can use in your home or business. They can use artificial light, but it doesn't really make much sense to power them that way.
When a solar cell absorbs light, electrons are excited to higher energy levels, knocking them loose from the atoms that bound them. These freed electrons can now flow through the material and act as charge carriers for an electric current. The materials used in solar cells absorb some wavelengths of light more efficiently than others.
The source of the light absorbed by a solar panel makes no difference to its operation. You can verify this for yourself with a simple experiment: take a solar-powered calculator out into the sunshine then take it back inside under artificial light. You'll find it works just as well in both environments. Ultimately, what matters is not the source of the light but the spectrum it covers -- what wavelengths are emitted by the light source and whether those correspond to the wavelengths most efficiently absorbed by the solar cell.
While solar panels can use artificial light, it doesn't make much sense to place them beneath an artificial light source. The whole purpose of a solar panel is to convert a form of energy that's free and not useful as electricity in its current form (sunlight) into a useful form (electricity). If you use an artificial light source, you're taking energy in the form of electricity, converting it to light with your light bulb, then converting it back to electricity again with your solar panel.
- NASA: How do Solar Panels Work?
- Eindhoven University of Technology: Plasma Control of the Emission Spectrum of Mercury-Noble Gas Discharges
- "Physics for Scientists and Engineers"; Richard Wolfson, et al.; 1999
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