There’s been a lot of buzz around solar panels over the last decade or so.
We’ve seen improvements to the technology, major price drops, and government incentives to promote them. Between all this, they’ve become a popular way for home and business owners to put a dent in their energy costs. And of course, they help us all go a little bit greener at the same time.
But how do they work? The answer to that question is older than you may realize.
The Origin of Solar Power
While it’s risen to prominence over the last decade or two, solar-powered technology is much older than that.
By the 1860s, French mathematician Augustin Mouchot was filing patents for solar-powered engines. He followed those up with a solar-powered printing press not long after. And not to be outdone, American inventors would file patents for their own solar-powered devices before the turn of the century.
But it was an even earlier discovery that made it all possible. In 1839, a 19-year-old French physicist named Edmond Becquerel became the first person to observe the photovoltaic effect. This process is how light can be converted into electricity and would be pivotal to the development of future solar technology.
So How Do Solar Panels Work?
Through the photovoltaic effect, semiconductors inside solar cells cause interaction between electrons and photons from captured sunlight. These interactions are what generate the electricity that we can harness.
A step-by-step breakdown of the process in action looks something like this:
- Start by building a solar panel out of photovoltaic cells. These cells are made out of materials that can conduct electricity, usually crystalline silicon. Inexpensive, readily available, and having a long lifespan, it’s the ideal material for solar cells.
- When sunlight strikes a cell, the photovoltaic process beings. The photons that make up the light knock electrons from the crystalline silicon loose.
- These now free-floating electrons flow towards the conductive metal plates around the outside of the cell. This movement of electrons creates an electric current.
- The current produced takes the form of direct current (DC) electricity. However, most of the electricity that we use takes the form of alternating current (AC) electricity. To remedy this, the current needs to be passed through an inverter to convert it into usable power.
- Once it’s through the inverter, it passes on as usable electricity. Here it can be passed into a building’s electrical system or stored in a battery.
Though easy to understand, installing solar panels relies on making sure all the components are compatible.
That’s why, rather than attempting solar panel installation yourself, you should always seek the services of a qualified solar panel company. For an example of what a quality company looks like, check out blueravensolar.com/south-carolina/
Will Solar Energy Power the Future?
As the 21st-century advances, we can count on solar panels becoming a major infrastructure consideration. Our current reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable even in the short term, so rapid advancement of alternative energy sources will need to take place within the next few years.
As we move into this stage of energy development, be sure to stay in the loop by keeping up with all of our latest energy tech news and views.