Solar energy was probably inspired by nature and photosynthesis, now Solar Energy powers millions of homes and businesses worldwide but it was not a new idea. Solar Power has existed for well over a century. French scientist Edmond Becquerel is the father of solar energy. In 1839 he discovered that certain material produced electronic sparks when subjected to sunlight.
The discovery was called the “photoelectric effect” and researchers soon found that energy could be harnessed with photovoltaic (PV) cells. The first cells made of selenium were created at the turn of the 19th century. Science revisited the idea in the 1950’s and produced silicon-based PV cells that converted up to 4% of sunlight into electricity.
A solar panel works allowing photons, particles of light, to free electrons from atoms and produce electricity. A solar panel comprises of multiple photovoltaic cells. Each cell is made up of two components of semi-conducting material – usually silicon. The photovoltaic cell establishes an electric field similar to a magnetic field when the oppositely charged material is separated. By adding phosphorous to the top layer of material they negatively charge the layer, meanwhile, the bottom layer is positively charged by adding boron. When sunlight hits the top layer it allows electrons to flow to the bottom layer creating a current of electricity.
The electricity harnessed is DC (direct current), this then goes through an inverter to produce AC (alternating current) that can be used to power a home. Today’s PV cells are very efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, and up to 23% of sunlight is transformed into electrical current. The most efficient of all solar cells are used to power satellites and can convert 50% of sunlight to electricity.
With a lifecycle of up to 25 years solar panels represent a carbon neutral way to power your home or business, with surplus power pumped back into the grid.