We all know (or have been told) that solar power is simply power provided by the sun. But how does the process actually work? As an amateur solar enthusiast I’ll try and explain the process for you so that you have a better understanding of the entire process from sunlight (or light source) to the end result of power being produced.
What are Photovoltaics?
The term “photovoltaics” has been gaining popularity in the energy industry. Most countries—especially the industrialized and economically prosperous ones—are finding themselves in short supply of traditional energy sources to ensure that their industries are adequately powered. Fossil fuels have been the traditional source of energy for centuries, but they are not sustainable and might run out over time. Rising oil prices have also clued many nations in how fossil fuels can be vulnerable to depletion. Plus, the rising levels of pollution in many areas of the world are ringing alarms everywhere.
Experts have been searching for clean and sustainable sources of energy for decades, and they have made a breakthrough: harvesting sunlight and turning it into energy that can power all our wonderful inventions and innovations. This method of sourcing energy from a clean and renewable source—the sun—is known as photovoltaics. This method involves collecting solar radiation and turning it into electrical power through the use of semiconductors.
The Photovoltaic Effect
Harnessing the power of the sun and turning it into electric currents is powered by the photovoltaic effect. Simply put, the photovoltaic effect involves creating electric currents or voltage in a certain material by exposing it to light. First observed by a French physicist named Edmond Becquerel in 1839, the photovoltaic effect is greatly influential in the development of the solar power industry. Becquerel is also credited for creating the first photovoltaic cell in the world.
In his experiments, he discovered that silver chloride (placed in an acidic solution) connected to several platinum electrodes could generate electric currents and voltage when placed under light. As recognition for this breakthrough experiment, the photovoltaic effect is alternately known as the Becquerel effect.
Clean and Sustainable Source of Energy
Many scientists and energy experts believe that using photovoltaics in power generation is the clean and sustainable way to go. This seemingly complex technology is powered by the best kind of renewable energy our planet has: the sun. Sunlight is not only abundant (during daytime, of course, and more so during warmer weather and in areas near the equator), but is also distributed in almost every corner of the planet.
One of the major advantages of photovoltaics is that generating power through this technology does not produce environmental emissions during the process—therefore reducing the pollutants released into the environment during power generation.
The technology of photovoltaics is well-proven and used for more than fifty years, with more and more countries and industries building their own systems to supplement their use of electricity and other sources of energy. In the future, energy experts are hoping that photovoltaics can fully take over the other means of electricity generation.
Photovoltaics Around the World
As of 2013, the use of solar power for electrical energy has reached a record height of 136 GW, which experts approximate to be enough to meet 0.85% of the world’s electricity demand. China, one of the world’s leading consumers of fossil fuels, has a fast-growing market for photovoltaics. Germany, long known to be one of the world’s leaders in technology, is the largest producer of sun-sourced electrical energy; the country uses six percent of photovoltaic energy for its electricity needs.