Solar power is getting a lot of attention these days because of skyrocketing oil prices. What makes solar power unique is its ability to make energy from something so abundant which is the sun. But how does this work?
Solar power is possible thanks to something called photovoltaic panels. Photovoltaic panels or PV panels are also known as solar cells.
Photovoltaic panels are devices that converts energy from sunlight directly into electricity. This results in a voltage buildup across two electrodes as electrons are moved from one place to another. Photovoltaic panels or solar cells are used to power electric devices or even charge batteries.
The first practical application was to power orbiting satellites or spacecraft in space where the use of fossil fuels was impractical. Nowadays, because of the advancements in technology and the slowly decreasing price tags of photovoltaic panels, solar power is connected to the power grid to provide additional electricity.
Another common use of PVs are in off-grid systems where solar power is used to power structures that are in remote locations. Other applications are in powering boats, electric cars, public street lights and so on.
While there are tons of research on advancing photovoltaic panels, the most common material used as of today is silicon. The current average efficiency of converting sunlight into electricity using today’s PVs is around 12-18% and the cost of generating a watt or electricity is around USD4-8. This is inclusive of all components and installation from inverters to panels to mounts.
Looking toward the foreseeable future, we can expect photovoltaic panels to cost less and produce electricity more efficiently. Around the 40-50% range.
One thing we can all be sure of is the sun isn’t going away soon, so the more we rely on solar power and photovoltaic panels and the less we rely on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy, the better.