The most surprising thing about the surge in the development of harnessing the sun’s heat to make electricity is that it has taken so long to come. After all, the sun has been there before it was given the name. Another surprising fact is that solar panels have been around for more than 100 years, and it took the price of oil hitting $140 per barrel before the world took notice and developed the potential of this green energy source.
Solar panels are really quite simple, and although at the moment cannot yet achieve the level of efficiency in creating electricity that burning fossil fuels can, it’s renewable and safe, and will soon be just as cost-effective as coal-fired turbines. You can also build one in your own backyard.
Exactly how solar panels work is not a mystery either: it’s all about the cells.
The Solar Cells History
This is the most important component in making solar energy, because these cells turn the sun’s rays into electricity. The process of conversion from light to electricity is called the photovoltaic effect. The light hits the solar cell, and some are absorbed, some pass through and some are reflected. The amount that is absorbed is converted into electricity. As of today, the maximum solar conversion efficiency is about 40%- 42%.
The first solar cell was created in 1883, and it was made of selenium and coated with a thin layer of gold. It was a labor-intensive process, and it was also very expensive. The conversion was also very low, about 1%.
By accident later on in the mid 1950s, it was discovered that silicone, with other impurities are the better choice because of its semi-conductive properties. The solar cells that can be found these days are developed from these discoveries.
The Layman Explanation
The long and short of it is this:
- The solar cells absorb the light from the sun and turns it into electric current.
- The electric current generated from all these cells are conducted by the wires connected to a battery that charges the electric cells in the battery, and stores it for future use. The higher the voltage of the battery, the higher your electricity generation needs.
- The battery where the electricity is stored will then be connected to the electrical appliances that you want running on them.
Learning how solar panels work is actually more complicated than building one of your own, after all, someone has already done the scientific research. It is also a lot cheaper if you’re ready and willing to get your hands dirty. In the end you get to save money and save the world.