How Does Solar Energy Generate Electricity?
Solar Power has become all the rage these days, with a rising consciousness in the population about helping to protect and preserve our natural resources. The cost of traditional energy is also increasing as the resources used to produce it and the demand for what’s available grows day by day, and this has caused many people to look for a more independent and affordable alternative. Everyday there are more and more solar assemblies appearing in the most unlikely locations, from grocery store parking lots, to farms and small homesteads. One question remains in the minds of the majority, how does solar energy generate electricity?
The first thing to understand is that the sun is one massive nuclear reactor, constantly throwing off energy in the form of sunlight and a host of other rays. The type of particle that is important to answering “How does solar energy generate electricity?” is the photon, and is the main component of visible light. We’ve all sat in the warm embrace of a sunbeam, but have you ever wondered why the sunbeam feels all warm and toasty?
The concept is simple on the surface, photons contain energy, and when that energy hits your skin it’s absorbed and turns into heat. While this is certainly true for your skin, the key to understanding “how does solar energy generate electricity?”is knowing that when it hits certain materials, it instead generates electrons, which are the bits that electricity is made from. When specially designed equipment is used to capture these photons, it becomes an electrical current we can harness.
The first material we discovered that had this ability was silicon, a crystalline substance that is used to create solar panels, and almost all of the components of your computer. Naturally occurring silicon lacks the size necessary to effectively generate electricity, so artificial ones had to be grown in laboratories, which was a prohibitive and expensive process. Wondering “how does solar energy generate electricity, and how can we do it more efficiently?” was what drove innovation in this industry, and produced some of the much cheaper and more efficient materials used today.
The most recent and commonly used innovation involve the use of smaller, cheaper crystals that contain copper-iridium-gallium-selenide, that allows the formerly rigid solar panels to be formed into flexible films. Thin-Film solar technology is the leading edge of new solar power assemblies, even though it is less efficient at converting solar energy into electricity. The drastically less expensive nature of the substance, and it’s ability to form adaptable films is what drives it’s use.
Once solar energy has been converted to electricity by the crystals, it’s fed through an inverter to make it suitable for use in most domestic systems. From their it’s either fed into the home or device utilizing the generated power, or into a bank of batteries to store the energy. This, my friends, is the most basic way to understand “how does solar energy generate electricity?”