How do Solar Panels Work?

by Erick Hanifeld

Global warming, caused by the abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has initiated the search for newer, cleaner sources of producing electricity. Coal, oil and to a certain extent, nuclear power plants let off tons of pollutants, which are the major causes of this global catastrophe.

The Sun, our nearest and most powerful source of renewable energy could help us produce electricity by tapping its energy. But how could it be done? Well, with the invention of photovoltaic cells, a of which comprise a solar panel, makes this dream of tapping the sun’s energy a reality. However, the three main drawbacks to the installation, use, and maintenance of these solar panels are – the amount of funding needed to set up a solar plant, rain, and snow. Some of the cost is offset by the savings from other energy sources, but not entirely until some of the costs of solar come down.

To understand how solar panels work one will have to up one’s knowledge of chemistry. Solar panels work on the principle of chemical reactions that are induced to form the electric current.

Silicon, or sand, is the main component of a solar panel. It’s unthinkable isn’t it? All those beaches, all that sand, can be so important to science! Well, silicon (the element Si on the periodic table) has four electrons while in its natural form, but has room for eight electrons. So, if one silicon atom combines with another, it creates a strong bond. However, electricity isn’t formed since both the atoms share each other’s capacity for eight electrons. One needs a negative and a positive charge to create that current. So, how do you get that positive-negative balance?

The positive-negative balance can be introduced to the silicon atoms by using phosphorus which has electrons. Combined with silicon it lends a negative charge as the silicon does not need the one extra atom. In the same way, a positive charge is created by using boron which has three atoms. The chemical reaction of balancing positive and negative charges by introducing phosphorus and boron releases an current.

Well, now comes the most important part of the chemical reaction! The sun’s rays are made up of particles of energy, the photon being one of them. The photons, when they hit the silicon-phosphorus atoms, knock off that extra electron which is attracted by the positive silicon-boron atoms, to compensate for the 3-electron structure of boron. As those electrons continue to be attracted and flow, electricity is produced.

To produce an adequate of electricity for daily consumption, several solar panels will be necessary. In addition it is important to install back up power source to store the electricity produced. This dual installation is likely to be quite expensive. When it is all said and done, it is worth the trouble and expense to shift to cleaner energy sources. In the long run, installation and maintenance can actually work out to be cost effective.

So maybe you don’t need to know all of the chemistry, but do know that this cleaner way of producing electricity will save our environment and the world.

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