Solar energy is an excellent source that has the potential to greatly reduce environmental pollution. Unfortunately, it’s recognized as an “alternative energy” since it isn’t an energy source used by a majority of the population. One of the main reasons is that it’s still quite costly to manufacture. Right now, calculators and decorative outdoor lights are a couple of the most popular solar powered gadgets. The question remains, how do solar panels work? How does setting up a small panel, directed towards the sun, turn the sunlight into the electricity that keeps those pretty, bluish bright lights lighting up the walkway all night long?
Solar panels are made from special materials that absorb the sun’s rays and turn them into electricity that can power all sorts of electronic devices. Devices that we use electricity for everyday without thinking twice about could be powered by solar panels.
In today’s world, we’re using a growing technology called photovoltaic (PV) electricity. Special materials are used to turn the sun’s energy into electricity and it can be used immediately or stored in DC batteries.
These materials have been recently developed and they release electrons when prompted by sunlight. Another name for a photovoltaic panel is a “direct energy conversion device”. All of these effects take place on an atomic level without any moving parts.
Photovoltaic panels used to be restricted to space age technology. Satellites and space stations used them for their reliable and continuous conversion of solar power. Outer space has an advantage when it comes to solar energy since the sun’s radiation is, at the very least, 50% stronger out there than here on Earth.
A good candidate for solar energy is someone living a mile or more from an electrical grid since it’s a lot more costly to install power transmission cables than it is to install a solar panel kit. If this is you, then maybe it’s time to consider solar energy as your main power source.
But the question hasn’t been fully answered yet”how do solar panels work?”, and to better understand this we should know what solar energy is. Solar energy is made up of two kinds of radiation. The first and the best kind for solar panels to function is called “beam radiation”. Imagine you are laying on the beach in the middle of June on a bright sunny day. Feel the sun’s rays beating down on your skin. The energy you feel on your skin is “beam radiation”. A clear blue sky is a good day at work for a solar panel, but that solar panel needs to be properly placed in order to absorb the most direct sun rays as it can to achieve optimal results.
The other kind of radiation is “diffuse radiation”. This radiation is strewn all over the place (as its name suggests). On a cloudy day, it’s the primary radiation source for a solar panel. It’s the same thing if you’re relaxing under a shade tree diffuse radiation is what you’re going to get. Unfortunately diffuse radiation isn’t very strong and relying on it alone for solar energy isn’t practical.
So, with this being understood, a bright and sunny location is key for solar panels to work effectively. Beam radiation is very important and most of Western America fits this bill. However, northern climates and coastal states pose a bit of a challenge since typical weather there consists of a lot of clouds and rainy days. Those regions aren’t prime candidates for 100% solar reliance.
Solar panels are versatile in the sense that they can be set up to meet specific needs. 12 volt, 24 volt, and 48 volt DC systems are the most widely used. 12 volt solar panels can live well over 20 years and fall in the range of 12-14% efficiency.
Today’s production of solar panels consists of using supremely pure silicone semi-conductor materials. This is primarily what makes the use of solar power so expensive. Luckily there are new materials in the making and they’re particularly geared toward lowering the cost of production, thus lowering the cost for the consumers. Cadmium Telluride based solar panels are an example of new solar energy technology, and if these materials are successful in the final outcome then the price of solar panels should greatly decrease, making our environment that much cleaner as more and more people convert to solar power.
It’s unfortunate that solar energy is still considered “alternative energy”, but that’s all changing. If you’re considering a conversion to solar power then there are specific considerations to be made upon deciding, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction for our planet. The benefits outweigh the cost as far as our environment is concerned, especially the long term effects. Energy independence is a common goal for all, and if you just want to consider solar energy as a back up plan, then the decision is practically already made for you. Why not? The environment will benefit greatly once solar panels become financially available to all.