How Do You Produce Electricity from Solar Energy
There are more solar powered devices today than there were two decades ago and, you’ve probably seen one.
Solar powered calculators are some of the most common gadgets that do not need batteries to work and in most
cases don’t even have an off button.
Some emergency road signs, buoys, call boxes and lights in some parking lots are other applications where larger
solar panels are used.
Larger solar panels may not be as common as the smaller devices but they are certainly being used. Space
missions started using solar cells to powering satellite systems as far back as the 1950s. The technology continues
to evolve and it is now being used in less exotic.
About 1000-watts of electricity per square kilometre are given off from the sun’s rays on any given sunny day.
If all that energy could be harnessed, we could be able to meet all our energy needs ‘for free’. This prospect – of
a solar revolution – has lingered for years but it will be sometime before it is actualized, given the numerous
So, how is solar energy converted to electricity? What is solar
energy? A large solar electric system consists of a number of parts, with a solar cell (photovoltaic cell)
as the core component.
Conversion of photons to electrons
The word ‘photo’ means light and ‘voltaic’ means electricity. Photovoltaic (PV) cells convert solar energy into
electricity. These cells are normally grouped together electrically to form a frame, commonly called a solar panel.
These frames can further be clustered together to form solar arrays.
A semiconductor material, such as silicon, is what is used to make these photovoltaic cells. When light rays hit
the cell, a certain amount of it is absorbed into the semiconductor material. This basically means that the energy
of the absorbed light is passed on to the semiconductor material. The electrons in the semiconductor will then
freely flow as the energy hits them loose.
The electric field – one or more – in the photovoltaic cells forces the freely flowing electrons to move in a
given direction. This flow of electrons is what constitutes a current, which can be drawn off for external use by
placing conducting materials, such as metals, on either side of the cell. The cell’s built-in electric field –
which is its voltage – together with the current is its wattage or power that the cell can generate. Why silicon is
used in a solar cell
In its crystalline form, silicon has got some special properties. There are 14 electrons in a single atom of
silicon, arranged in three shells. The first two are totally full and hold two and eight electrons respectively.
The outer shell holds only four electrons.
In order to fill its outer shell, a silicon atom will share its electrons with the four surrounding cells,
giving the crystalline nature of silicon, which turns out to be very useful for this type of photovoltaic cell.
Silicon is a poor conductor so it is usually mixed with phosphorus and boron atoms (doping) when being used in a
This is the very basic process by which solar energy is converted into electricity but certainly, there’s much
more to it.
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