Solar energy is the radiant energy produced by the Sun. It is both light and heat. Along with secondary solar-powered resources such as wind and wave power, solar energy accounts for the majority of the renewable energy on Earth. Humans harness solar energy in many different ways: space heating and cooling, the production of potable water by distillation, disinfection, lighting, hot water, and cooking. The applications for solar energy are only limited by human ingenuity.


Solar panels

Solar panels

Solar panels are devices that convert light into electricity. They are called “solar” panels because most of the time, the most powerful source of light available is the Sun, called Sol by astronomers. A solar panel is a collection of solar cells. Lots of small solar cells spread over a large area can work together to provide enough power to be useful.

When exposed onto roof surfaces, the solar panels look like sheets of glass looking towards the sun. However, their components are more complex than a simple glass panel.

After the transportation of solar panels to the customer’s home and a proper installation, there is only a small amount of maintenance required each year to ensure they are in working order. They are a silent producer of energy. There is absolutely no noise made from photo voltaic panels as they convert sunlight into usable electricity.

But, how exactly do the solar panels work? How much sunlight do they need? Here is a simplified explanation of solar power generation process:

1. The Photoelectric Effect

PV solar panels produce your electricity using something called the photoelectric effect. The photoelectric effect was first noted back in 1839 by a French physicist named Edmund Bequerel. He discovered that certain materials would produce a small electric current when you exposed them to light. This is the principle used by PV solar panels. The first practical applications of PV solar panels were on space craft in the 1960s. As time went by, the technology improved and the panels became smaller and cheaper. Today solar panels are affordable and efficient enough for domestic use.

2. What is a Solar Cell?

The most important part of solar panels are the silicon solar cells. Silicon is made of tiny atoms that have charged electrons. The most common design of solar panels today uses two different types of silicon. This is to create negative and positive charged atoms.

This combination of different solar cells creates more electrons in the positively charged silicon and fewer electrons in the negatively charged silicon. The positively charged silicon cells are sandwiched with the negatively charged silicon cells. This configuration enables a reaction that produces electricity when the silicon cells are exposed to sunlight.

3. Solar Panel Production

Solar cells are carefully placed in a series of rows. Individual cells are connected using a thin conductive strip. This strip is woven over and under each silicon cell so that every cell in the solar panel is connected and creates an electric circuit. The solar cells are then covered with a heavy duty piece of glass and framed using an aluminium frame.

On the back of every solar panel are two leads. These leads are used to connect individual solar panels together to form an array of solar panels which are connected to the solar inverter.

4. How Do Solar Panels Work?

Put simply a solar cell works like this:

  • Inside a solar cell you have two wafer-thin layers of silicon crystal, placed on top of each other to make a sort of silicon sandwich. The top layer has been specially treated so that its atoms are unstable — they have one too many electrons that they would really like to get rid of. The bottom layer has also been treated, but this time the atoms have a few empty spaces that could really do with an electron to fill them. So the top layer is desperate to lose a few electrons, the bottom layer is desperate to gain a few electrons, and the electrons themselves are itching to move from the top layer to the bottom. This setup puts everything is in place for electricity to be produced. There is just one problem: the electrons within silicon crystal can’t move around freely — not until the solar panel is exposed to light.

  • When sunlight hits the top silicon layer, it ‘excites’ the electrons and gives them enough energy to move. The electrons begin to flow from the top layer to the bottom. And as we know, when a bunch of electrons start to move along in the same direction, we have electricity. Put two metal contacts on either side of the silicon sandwich and we have electricity moving through a circuit.

  • There is one last piece to the puzzle before the electricity can be used. The electricity generated by PV solar cells is DC (direct current). The electricity used in your house is AC (alternating current). So the current from the solar panel system has to go through an inverter, to convert it from DC to AC before it can be pumped into your house and used to run appliances.

5.  How much sunlight do they need?

Solar panels harness clean energy from a virtually limitless supply. And for someone living in Australia, it is a natural choice of energy supply. But is there enough sunshine in other parts of the world, as in Britain, to make it worth investing in a solar panel system? The short answer is yes. The good news is that despite the unpredictable weather, the sun doesn’t have to be out for solar panels to work. As you would expect, they produce more power on a sunny day, but they will still produce some energy on a cloudy day — the more light there is, the more they produce. And remember, PV solar panels use light to produce electricity, not heat.

Solar energy is not only sustainable, it is renewable and this means that we will never run out of it. It is about as natural a source of power as it is possible to generate electricity. There are continual advancements in solar panel technology which are increasing the efficiency and lowering the cost of production, thus making it even more cost effective. In the future, solar power is all but assured to have a lasting and overwhelmingly positive impact on our society.

This article was submitted by Allword Logistics, an international freight forwarding company based in Melbourne, Australia who provide efficient and effective sea and air freight services.


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