How Solar Panels Work
With the world in desperate need of clean, renewable energy, that big, yellow ball in the sky seems to be a great solution. Solar energy is plentiful–more plentiful than any other energy resource on the planet. At any given time, the sun emits 173,000 terawatts of solar energy. To put that into perspective, 173,000 terawatts is greater than 10,000 times of the world’s cumulative energy use. In addition to being a highly abundant resource, using solar energy releases zero greenhouse gases and does not pollute the air or water.
But, just how do solar panels work? Get ready for a quick and dirty lesson.
Sun Science – How Solar Panels Work
Solar energy systems work by allowing photons (particles of light) to knock electrons free from atoms, which generates a flow of electricity. The panels themselves are actually comprised of many photovoltaic units (which is basically just a fancy word for a device that can convert sunlight into energy).
In order to function, photovoltaic cells need to create an electric field: similar to magnetic fields, electric fields occur when opposite charges are separated. Each photovoltaic cell is essentially a sandwich, except instead of bread there are two slices of semi-conducting material (like silicon). Solar panel manufacturers establish an electric field between the two slices by “doping” the silicon with other materials until each slice has a positive or negative electrical charge.
Then, when a photon of sunlight knocks an electron free, the electric field will push that electron out of the silicon junction. Metal conductive plates on the sides of the cell collect these electrons and transfer them to wires, allowing them to flow like any other source of electricity.
When Science Shines Bright
As per the trend of the 21st Century, technology just keeps on getting better and better. Researchers have recently created ultra-thin, flexible solar cells that are about 1/100th the width of a human hair, and 20 times lighter than a sheet of office paper. They are light enough to sit on top of a soap bubble without popping it and are still capable of producing energy with as much efficiency as glass-based solar cells.
In the future, you may be able to harness solar energy by painting the exterior of your home with special solar paint. According to Futurism, the paint–one that is currently in the works–would absorb energy from the sun’s rays as well as energy from humidity or water vapor in the air. Years from now, it may be an option to paint just about any outdoor surface, including homes, sheds, dog houses, and fences.
This development in solar energy systems could revolutionize day-to-day life by potentially allowing us to charge our phones while we’re walking down a sunny street, not to mention the impact it could have in architectural and aerospace projects.
Why Switch to Solar Power?
There are several reasons to make the switch to solar. A few are listed below:
- Solar Power is Clean: Solar power is good for the environment. It provides a source of clean, “green” energy. Solar will help reduce energy consumers’ carbon footprint.
- Solar Adds Benefit to Unused or Underutilized Land: Solar panels make good use of unused or underutilized land, which provides a source of clean energy for everyone. Solar farms are tracts of land where solar panels are installed in great numbers and in close proximity to each other. A 45-acre solar farm was installed in England and generated power for 2,500 homes.
- Solar Provides Energy Grid Security: With enough residential solar energy customers using solar power, we are not as likely to experience frustrating black- and brownouts. This provides a level of security against frustrating brown- and blackouts.
- Solar is low cost!: The sun is an energy source that will not run out. No company or corporation has a monopoly on the sun or solar energy. Once you switch to solar power, you will start saving immediately on your energy costs. You will enjoy both short term and long term benefits from solar energy.