Beginners Guide To Solar Power

February 7, 2012 by Liam Raikes  
Filed under Science

The function of a solar cell is very simple. It takes light, and it makes it into electricity. It’s very simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Imagine if you were tasked to create something that could actually do that, most people wouldn’t know where to start. Well, by the end of this article, you’re not going to be an expert in how to build solar panels, but you should at least understand the principles involved.

How Does Light Become Electricity?

To answer this question of how it is that light becomes electricity, we have to be more clear about exactly what light is and what electricity is. There isn’t room to go into detail about this of course, but we can get a general idea.

A Photon

The most important thing to know about light when it comes to solar panels is that it can be viewed in two ways, as being made up of waves and as being made up of particles. In fact both is true, which is a bit strange, but this is something that has come out of quantum physics.

In terms of solar cells, the most useful way to think about light is as being made up of particles of light. That is what a photon is, it is the name for a particle of light. If you’re wondering how light can be thought of as being particle based, in terms of waves it is the smallest packet of waves that you can get (if that makes it any clearer!).

What Is Electricity?

Electricity consists of the uniform flow of electrons in a substance. The substance has to have certain qualities which allows this to happen, they have to be made up in a particular way. When the conditions are right, then we call that material conductive, because it can conduct electricity. This applies to metals mostly.

There is another type of material though which conducts electricity in a slightly different way. It still has to do with the electrons flowing, but this flow can be created by the existence of “holes” in which there should be an electron. This hole will attract an electron, so that is how electricity can flow as well. Substances that do this are called semiconductors.

Solar Cells

With this information, the way that a solar panel actually works can be described more easily. The first thing to know is that they are made of a semi-conductive substance, often silicone. The important thing about this is that when a photon hits the semiconductor which the cell is made of, it pushes an electron out of its orbit and this creates a “hole” in it, like the ones described above. This is what causes electricity to flow.

It’s not quite as simple as getting a semiconductor and hooking it up to some wires though. There are actually two halves, one of which has to be negatively charged and the other half has to be positively charged. In their normal state, these halves are balanced, but when light hits them the balance is upset and that is what makes the electrons move in a uniform way.

How The Solar Electricity Is Made Useful For Your House

A little bit more work has to be done before the electricity can be used in a house though. It comes out as direct current (DC) but houses run on alternating current (AC) so it has to be converted before it can actually be useful.

On the way to the converter, however, it makes a stop in a battery. This is a DC battery, and that’s where the electrical energy from the solar cells are stored, so that it can be used when needed.

If you are interested in becoming helping in the fight against global warming, go to Solar Energy UK to get more information about solar panels. That is the website where Cameron Knill enjoys writing more about renewable energy sources.


Getting Involved With Solar Energy

December 11, 2011 by Liam Raikes  
Filed under Environment

Although solar energy has its disadvantages, they are vastly outweighed by its advantages. At least, they should be. It is relatively efficient, compared to other renewable energy, and it is certainly relatively cheap compared with them. Also, individuals are able to get solar power for their own property.

Two factors are going to come into play when you are considering having this done. The major one in terms of practicality is going to be the issue of cost, can you afford it? Of course in that equation you have to take into account the savings you will be making in later years, not just the installation. The reason that you are probably going to be particularly interested in renewable energy, rather than some other financial investment, is the environmental benefits which using it accrues however.

Although the financial issue is more important in each individual practical case, the environmental concerns are potentially even more important if the worst case scenarios of not transitioning to renewable energy come to pass. If we cannot eventually transition to renewable energy then one of the following scenarios is virtually certain to occur. Firstly, we could run out of the fossil fuels, in fact as they are non-renewable sources that is certain to occur unless we choose to stop using them first. This will mean that we won’t be able to use electricity anymore, we won’t be able to use mechanical transportation, in short it will be a return to the dark ages. Before that occurs, however, we might get the effects of global warming, which could lead to such a shift in the climate that humans will no longer be able to survive on this planet.

When considering these scenarios, it might seem as if the financial aspect is going to be a distant second in terms of importance. However it is only when the technology is financially viable that people will, on a large scale, be able to use it. If we are able to create solar power as cheaply as we can get energy from oil, that will be the time when the transition will actually be made, so that is why the financial angle is actually just as important.

At the moment, however, there are many challenges to be faced in terms of the solar power that we are using. First of all, it is not very efficient. That means that for all the energy that the solar panels could potentially be getting from the sun, much of it is being wasted. That is why research is always being done in to how to make solar cells more efficient.

As already stated, the issue of how expensive solar installations are is also an important one. Although the government cannot really just give people free solar panels, they are doing what they can to make buying them a better investment, and therefore more attractive to people. Although this does not solve the problem that many people still will not be able to afford the installation costs in order to take advantage of the Feed in Tariff scheme.

If we were only able to power our homes with solar power, however, then it would only solve half the problem. There would still be the issue of all of the energy we use for transport. However we are able to put solar panels anywhere, even on cars, boats and planes. Eventually, therefore, just about everything could be powered by the sun.

The key questions now are whether the technological advancements in solar energy are going to come quickly enough to prevent global warming and economic collapse. Also, are people going to recognise the magnitude of the problems that are being faced and act accordingly by using renewable energy themselves? We are just going to have to wait and see what happens.

Daniel Rider enjoys writing about solar energy at Solar Energy UK.