So what are some solar energy facts anyways? How about how do solar panels work, and how is sunlight turned into energy?
The solar revolution has been happening for the last 20 years and is now firing into high gear. It has taken a long time for the technology to become feasible enough for everyday people to utilize. The best part is the technology is increasing at an ever increasing speed. Solar panels or photovoltaic cells as they are sometimes called (photo = light, voltaic = electricity) are needed to generate solar power from the sun. But how exactly does it do this? Well, we need to think of solar power as a source of electricity and that the process of generating it works on the same principles of other forms of electricity. The flow of energy, after generated is run through electrical wiring to appliance’s in your house just like energy from coal or nuclear. But how is the energy made initially from the sun you ask?
I am sure you have heard of the element silicon, it is the stuff responsible for the computer renaissance. Well silicon is also important in the cultivation of solar energy. You see when silicon is stripped of it’s impurities it will be able to transmit electrons and is the main ingredient in making solar panels because it acts as a semiconductor. But you can’t stop there because silicon by itself will not generate electricity because it has neither a positive or negative charge. The pure silicon needs to be combined with other elements that do have positive and negative charges, the process of adding impurities on purpose is called doping. Boron is a element that when introduced to silicon will create a positive charge, but to generate electricity we also need an element to create a negative charge, like phosphorus. Once the elements have been introduced they are put on the panel with conductive wires between them creating an electric field. So where does the sun come in?
There are many types of particles sent out by the sun. The particle that is involved with solar energy is the photon. When the panel receives sunlight the photons effectively ram into the the negative and positive charged atoms of the elements used in the panel. What happens next is that the photons will knock atoms off of the outer ring of atoms, these atoms are are called free carriers and carry electricity along with them. Which will be drawn in to the positively charged element’s outer ring through the electrical field which acts as a diode either drawing in or pushing the electrons to flow to the positive or negative side. The free carriers will then fill up the holes that the photons originally made by knocking the atoms off there ring. The more atoms or free carriers that are broken off and find a hole to fill the more energy is created, which has the effect of creating a flow of electrons we call a current. So now we have current, and the cells electrical field creates voltage. Combined current and voltage equals power. By placing metal contacts on the top and bottom of the photovoltaic cell, we can draw the current off to use for what we require it for, like a refrigerator.
Now if silicon is shiny then why are panels black? Well because silicon is shiny it will reflect a lot of the suns photons which will in effect lower our ability to cultivate power. To combat this we add a layer of anti-reflective coating, which will limit the reflection loss of photons to less then 5%! We will then cover the panel with a glass cover plate and a sturdy frame to minimize the effects of nature.
Unfortunately not much energy is created by one solar cell, which means that lots of them are needed, drastically raising solar power cost. At least till new technology is developed, for instance paint that will conduct solar power, which would be really hot (no pun intended, alright maybe). The problem is that the solar power cost is somewhat extravagant at the moment to buy systems and have them installed.
Luckily there are extremely easy ways to lower Solar Power Cost, and also have some fun by making solar panels yourself. Doing it this way can drastically lower the amount of money you’ll spend on your initial investment. I highly recommend trying it out, just be careful when purchasing a kit, they are not all created equal.
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Suggested reading material
- Breakthough to Unleash Solar Revolution – Daniel Nocera has developed a simple method to split water molecules and produce oxygen gas. In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers …
- Electricity from orbiting solar-powered lasers ::: Pink Tentacle – In a development that brings space-based power generation systems a step closer to reality, researchers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Osaka University Institute of Laser Engineering have developed …
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