How Does Solar Energy Work to Produce Electricity


Solar energy is mundanely understood as the energy derived from the Sun or the sunlight, to be more specific. Being the greatest source of green energy, Sunlight is also renewable, abundant  and perennial in nature. This energy is converted to different forms to be used by us like electricity, battery and thermal power. However converting Solar energy to electrical energy is a process with its roots in the fundamentals of physics. One of the most popular instances of this conversion are the solar panels.

To understand the process of conversion of sunlight to electricity, we need to get a few fundamentals clear. Sunlight is the main ingredient that sets the whole process rolling.  It consists of photons, which are carriers of light. They have zero rest mass. These photons are also the particles that pack in themselves the energy of sunlight in them.

On the other hand we have the solar panel system. The core of a Solar panel, which generates the electrical power is made of two layers of silicon. One is doped with  Phosphorous, to make it negatively charged and the other is treated Boron, which makes it Positive. These two layers do not react, unless teased by the photons. They lay on top of each other. When sunlight hits the solar panel system, the proton hits the silicon layers with force. The makes the electrons in the silicon panels break lose. This very flow of electrons is called electricity.

Electricity is passed through conductors or materials which help the transfer of electricity. There are different types of conductors available. Protons need to hit the conductors as hard, to release the electrons, depending on the kind of conductor a material is. A good conductor, for instance does not need the protons to hit as they let loose the protons. A semi conductor like the solar panel system, however needs a little more force to let go of the electrons and an insulator needs the most force for electricity to pass through.

Sunlight has millions of protons that come through. Capturing all of them would power the solar panel tremendously. However, at present Solar panels are still semi conductors of electricity and therefore cannot capture and convert as much solar energy. This has kept researchers on the lookout for materials that can capture more sunlight.

That Sun is a great source of energy has been obvious since time immemorial. It was however in 1876 that William Grylls Adams along with his student, discovered that selenium when exposed to light, produces electricity. This was the beginning. It was, however in 1953 that the first silicon solar cell was discovered. After three years of work the first solar cells were commercially available in the market. These cells were used on toys and novelty items, but were expensive. This made the solar cells an item of luxury. Then came the era of space research and advancements, where Russia and USA extensively used solar powered satellites. This was the time when solar power was extensively used for powering space related programmes. Till now solar cells were expensive. The advent of the 70s saw a sharp drop in the solar powered cell costs. Since then and through the 90s, the world witnessed an extensive use of solar cells everywhere, including the deserts and arid regions.

Today everyone has realized the approaching energy crisis that would result from the exhaustive use of fossil fuel. Countries are making focused efforts towards adopting to a more Solar powered life. India is an example of this kind of effort. Nooks and corners of the country where electricity was till now nonexistent, are electrified now due to Solar panels.

Solar energy converted to electricity is a reliable and cost effective power source. Yet one of the biggest problems till now is sustainability of the power after sunset. Of course solar batteries store power but that diminishes with time and is not dependable. The core of this inefficiency is the material used for trapping sunlight. Hence efforts are now being made at the Idaho university to make solar films that will not only trap more Sunlight but which will also be able to trap visible light. The film will have nanoantennas (small pieces of plastic embedded) which would be capable of releasing electricity even in the night.

The power house of energy, Sun, is nature’s bounty. It is an energy which is million times more than any man made energy source. Trapping this energy has opened up a whole new world of avenues for the Solar energy industry to indulge in, especially in experimentation for innovations.