Solar Energy: Photovoltaic Power Generation Explained

by Solar Selections on October 6, 2011

It can be easy to allow oneself to be caught up in the comparisons of different solar panel brands and installers when considering a solar installation, forgetting the simple genius  behind what is really going on. The harnessing of the suns energy through solar panels is a marvelous thought to behold, and this article will pay testament to how it actually works in bringing savings to your average home.

Whilst it can no longer be considered a cutting-edge prospect of cities of the future, solar energy technology is as impressive a testament to human invention as ever there was. The thought alone that photons from a dying cosmic star have hurtled over ninety million miles to be in your warm pot of tea through this vehicle of imagination turned innovation is truly magnificent. So how does it work? Whilst not as simple as the solar water heaters that transfer direct and ambient heat to water pipes, the photovoltaic effect can still be understood in plain terms.

The Photovoltaic Effect

Now before we get too technical, some ground rules regarding the chemical make up of atoms and elements needs to be revised. Far from a high school revision test, this can be easily understood in the following way. All elements contain as we know different elements. Electrons, photons and neutrons are some of the most common. We also understand that electrons are nimble, and can leave atoms they are attracted to under certain circumstances. Finally, electricity is a form of energy that results in the movement of electrons. Anything more complicated than this isn’t necessary to understand that ultimately if we are able to move electrons around within a carrier, such as a solar cell for instance, we can generate electrical energy. We know that Electrons are negatively charged, so as long as we had a positive end of a current we would see movement of electrons and therefore electricity.

After comprehensive studies into elements such as Carbon, Oxygen and Nitrogen, we were able to understand when exposed to certain triggers different elements would release electrons and therefore electricity. It was discovered that due to their chemical make-up, some elements would release electrons when exposed to a very common form of radiation here on Earth, solar radiation. These elements included what we call monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon and amorphous silicon.

So some clever scientists discovered that by exposing elements such as silicon in these forms in a controlled environment to the photons from solar radiation they could move/excite electrons in higher states of energy. By introducing simple semiconductors into these environments, they were then able to control the movement of these agile electrons to their will. By sending them in a coordinated path from the cells to electrical wiring heading out of the panel they created what we now call a photovoltaic solar panel. Thus, the energy was created and harnessed.

Electrical Energy in Motion

Once you have electricity, one simply requires a conductive material to move it along. By insulating this material, we can avoid electrons from becoming distracted and lost, and therefore send electrical power over great distances. The width of a power cable is a relative guide to distance it can transport power without significant losses. For instance, the lead from your computer to a power point might be larger than from your phone, but compared with power cabling you’ll see running from power stations to transporters it is fairly small.

Modern day societies generate electricity from a large number of sources. Everything from Nuclear power plants to hydroelectric dams and wind turbines all lower the risk of our important infrastructures being without power should a fault occur and as demand increases. The end-point to consider regarding solar energy generation on a scale such as residential houses is that it provides more and more energy to the grid from multiple sources, spreading the costs around society so that no-one perspective holds the keys to our safety and quality of life. Most importantly, it’s clean, green energy from the virtually limitless source of our sun. With every system installed on a roof, sources such as a coal powered electricity plant become shorter forecast investments and less moral decisions for our communities.

Written by Jarrah Harburn

jarrah@solarselections.co.uk

T: 020 7205 2267

© Solar Selections Pty Ltd

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