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Solar 101: What Are Solar Panels?

What are solar panels?

Solar panels are our future, and they will play a massive role in our transition from fossil fuels to green energy. The only debate is over how big of a role will solar panels play. Could solar be the answer, or is it only a part of the solution?

Solar panels are a collection of solar cells, also called photovoltaic cells, designed to turn the sun’s energy into electricity. Panels can come in different shapes and sizes. Recent technological advances have made it possible to create a solar film, which may make the use and application of solar energy more easily adaptable into society. The different types of constructions, shapes, sizes, and efficiencies of solar panels will allow for the use of solar panels in a multitude of ways. This technology is beginning to become very adaptable and more efficient, which can only mean positive things for the future of green energy.

How Do Solar Panels work?

Bear with me while I get a little technical!

Solar panels are a series of photovoltaic cells connected together. These photovoltaic cells are a mix of pure silicon (silicon atoms bonded with silicon atoms), silicon atoms bonded with phosphorus atoms, and silicon atoms bonded with boron.  In the illustration above, the silicon bonded with phosphorus is represented with N-Layer Silicon while the P-Layer is the silicon bonder with boron.

Silicon has four electrons in its outer shell, which leaves four open spots for other electrons. And there are eight spots for electrons in silicon’s outer shell. So silicon can bond perfectly with itself. When that bond happens there are no missing or extra electrons in the outer shell, because of that pure silicon does not make a very good conductor. Phosphorus however contains five electrons in its outer shell and when bonded with silicon leaves one stray electron out of the bond. And when boron and silicon bond it is one electron short because boron only has three electrons in its outer shell.

This is where the sun plays its very pivotal role in creating energy. When the sun’s rays are shining down on the solar panel photons are actually striking the solar panel. This causes the loose electron (in the phosphorus-silicon bond) to break off and fill the empty spot in the outer shell of the boron-silicon bond creating a current. That current is called electricity, and the charge that is created is what we can use to power anything from our cars to our automobiles. Stated more simply: The sun causes loose electrons in silicon to break away from the atoms creating a current. We store this charge in batteries and we then use the energy to help power our homes.

What are the current shortcomings of solar panels?

Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency!!

The amount of energy created from one electron coming loose and creating a current is very miniscule, therefore the size of solar panels capable to power something substantial can be prohibitive. The more efficient the photovoltaic cells become the smaller solar panels will need to be to power something of consequence.

New Developments

Solar film is like a film you could put on windows in your home or car, it works just like an actual solar panel would, this option just gives us more places to potentially be able to install solar panels and began to allow solar energy to work for us.

There is also a study that is researching how plants are able to convert solar rays into energy. Plants use a process called photosynthesis, using nature to help us develop better strategies in collecting solar energy could really aid scientists in creating more efficient solar panels.