How Does Solar Power Work?

June 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Solar Energy

When heard of home use, solar power seems to be a relatively modern invention. And while it may be true that huge and affordable solar panels that are used in solar systems today have only been around for three decades, the overall method actually dates way back to 1839, when Becquerel made the discovery of solar power. Becquerel found out that shining the sun on electrolytic cells could generate electricity.

Since then, various other scientists have added more to his discovery. In fact, Albert Einstein (most famous for his Theory of Relativity) obtained his 1921 Nobel Prize for his services to Theoretical Physics and the discovery of the photoelectric law effect. His paper on this was written in 1905.

Einstein’s photoelectric effect is quite similar to what avid solar power workers and enthusiasts would call the photovoltaic effect, which Becquerel first discovered. When sunlight hits particular materials, it tends to set electrons loose from their atoms. These moving electrons then produce a flowing current through these materials, generating electricity through solar power.

Today, these materials are normally a kind of doped silicon, which means that other elements were purposely introduced. Though these impurities would not be wanted in other applications, they are essential for solar power. Pure silicon is not very good at conducting electricity, but it is still very useful. By adding just the right amount of phosphorus, for instance, they can transform into semi-conductors.

Some special applications use other materials in place of silicon. However, silicon is much cheaper since it is ordinary and thus it is more abundant in the market.

The silicon-phosphorus compound is put into various layers and linked to a grid for an enhance electricity flow, which lessens the loss of resistance. Terminals are then put in to let the electricity flow into home electrical systems. All of this is protected with glass and things called photovoltaic cells, which are put into modules that can be linked to produce an entirely new system.

Modules tend to come in various sizes, which can determine the amount of generated electricity. The larger the module, the more power is produced. Larger photovoltaic solar panels cost more, naturally.

Though solar energy can reach the equator’s surface at 1,000 watts per square meter, the solar energy is not entirely usable. Solar energy can be lost due to atmosphere, dust, latitude, and other natural factors, so the modules can only convert with up to 15% effectiveness.

As a production method of practical energy, the growth of solar power relies greatly on increasing this effectiveness, as well as lowering production expenses. To an extent, this effectiveness is linked by particular physical constraints that are hard to get around, so a lot of the research efforts come with attempts to lower the expenses in manufacturing.

When this happens, solar power applications could easily turn into a common occurrence in both business and homes in the near future.