According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electricity generation using solar power has grown by 4,000% in the last decade thanks to rapid advances in solar panel technology.
Solar panel science might seem like magic to most, but it’s a relatively simple concept. Keep reading to find out the secrets behind solar panels.
How Do Solar Panels Create Electricity?
Solar panels just sit there on your roof. They don’t buzz or click or do anything to indicate they’re generating power.
In the most basic sense, a solar panel simply allows particles of light, called photons, to knock electrons out of atoms and then redirect this electrical energy as needed.
Photovoltaic cells are the main antagonists in this reaction.
The Finer Details of Solar Panel Technology
Each solar panel comprises numerous photovoltaic cells, which spring into action when sunlight touches them. A photovoltaic cell consists of two slices of semiconducting material sandwiched together.
Electricity works like a magnetic field. Electrons can only flow in a space between opposite charges. This flow of electrons is electricity.
Solar panel manufacturers create opposite charges in a photovoltaic cell by treating the semiconductor slices, usually silicon, with other materials.
The top layer of silicon gets a dose of phosphorous, adding extra electrons to the mix. They infiltrate the bottom layer with boron, to create a scarcity of electrons, i.e. a positive charge.
This creates a tiny electric field where the two slices meet. When a ray of sunlight heats the top slice, it activates the electrons, and they flow into and along this electric field, away from the photovoltaic cell.
Putting Electrons to Work
At each end of the photovoltaic cells, tiny conductive plates capture these stray electrons and direct them into electrical wires.
Voilà! The electrons from the photovoltaic cells become usable electricity.
Since all this takes place at a microscopic level, scientists are hard at work refining this technology to make solar panels increasingly smaller and lighter.
The smallest solar cells are only 1.3 microns thick, hundreds of times thinner than human hair. They’re light enough to float on a soap bubble, but they produce as much electricity as their larger predecessors.
Thanks to these kinds of studies, the benefits of solar panels will soon become a reality for everyone. Unfortunately, these advanced refinements aren’t available for home solar panels yet.
What Are the Best Solar Panels Available Right Now?
At present, when buying solar panels, you can choose from three different varieties. These are:
- Monocrystalline Solar Panels made from whole silicon crystals
- Polycrystalline Solar Panels comprising particles of silicon melted together
- Thin-Film Panels made of cadmium telluride or copper indium gallium diselenide
Monocrystalline solar panels are currently the top choice for home solar installation, as they’re the most efficient of the three. The other two types of panels are cheaper and less efficient.
Thin-film panels have the added benefit of lightweight portability.
Don’t Wait to Install Solar
It’s tempting to wait for further advances in solar panel technology to increase efficiency and decrease the prices of solar panels even more. Yet, there are two reasons why you should act now to install solar.
Firstly, state and government incentives on solar panels won’t last forever. Secondly, we must act now to reduce carbon emissions and ensure our survival on Earth.
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