Solar Power: Then and Now
- Posted by adminsolar
- On September 3, 2019
- 0 Comments
While it may not make headlines on a regular basis, it’s important not to forget how much the solar power industry has grown both domestically and internationally. In the U.S. alone, solar power has an average annual growth rate of over 50%. Not only that, but this has been holding fast for a decade. Part of this is due to the growing education on what solar power can do, as well as many people turning to renewable energy to help combat climate change. We can see that from the growth in calls and orders from your average solar company in Arvada and beyond.
With this said, while many people are learning more about solar power, there’s not much knowledge about its history or its future. This tells a fascinating story of scientific innovations that leads to your modern solar company in Firestone today.
How Things Started
Naturally, like a lot of renewable power, most people might think that solar power is a very recent creation. Not necessarily. Solar power’s origins go back to 1839, if you can believe it. That year, a French physicist working to study the exact nature of light ended up stumbling upon something called the photovoltaic effect. This ended up showcasing that one could produce energy, via sunlight, and that one discovery was the birth of solar as a possible power source.
Unfortunately, the scientists of that time were limited as far as how they could apply that power, though we would see different experiments over the years trying to figure out how to conduct and store electricity from sunlight. One major milestone in this area took place on April 25, 1954, when the first practical solar cell was announced. The origin of this product was actually rather interesting. Originally, Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, and Daryl Chapin were working on two separate projects: semiconductors and power sources for telephones based in deserts. However, when the two different teams heard what the other was doing, they decided to pool their efforts.
With this said, it’s important to talk about the scientific principles that enabled this solar cell to function. In turn, these principles are what powers your silicon solar panels in Arvada today. It all starts with the element silicon, which has an atomic number of 14. That number means there are 14 protons in the center of the element, orbited by 14 electrons. These electrons are distributed around 3 main circles. The innermost has 2 electrons, the middle circle has 8 electrons, and the outermost has four, and is half-full. That last point is important because it means the atom will look to fill that space from other atoms.
When you have that many electrons trying to make those connections, it limits the amount of space than an electric current can move around it. This is why, while you hear solar panels being advertised as “silicon solar panels” this is a bit of a misnomer. Technically, it’s normally mixed with a secondary element. A common one is phosphorous, with five electrons. When this happens, phosphorus’s fifth electron becomes what’s called a “free carrier.” This means that it can hold an electric current without added effort. Scientists help free carrier levels grow by adding additional impurities to the original silicon.
The final product is something called n-type silicon, and when you look at your home installation, this is what you see at the surface. Underneath that, you have something called p-type silicon. What separates the two is that p-type silicon utilizes elements that have one fewer electron than normal, with boron and gallium being common examples. This creates another imbalance, and when sunlight hits, the electrons go into motion to create a balance. Repeated motion leads to electricity.
Solar panels are generally made from silicon wafers. While this can be derived naturally, there are other options available. Some scientists actually grow silicon for solar applications. This is generally done by growing the element in a tube as a single crystal. Then, people unroll the tube and cut up the sheet into different wafers. Generally, this is a round stick that then gets shaved very thinly. Part of the reason that this method became popular is that scientists were struggling with ways to make the shavings without getting pieces that were either too thick or not thick enough.
The Modern Day
What about modern solar panels for your home in Frederick? Today, to make things as accurate and uniform as possible, photovoltaic cells are mass produced and then cut up by lasers. A bigger concern is less about the weight of the cells and more about how strong and durable they are, so people feel they are getting their money’s worth. Going hand in hand with this is making sure existing cells are more efficient. The ultimate goal is that sunlight on every part of the panel eventually can be converted to electricity. At the time, things have been steadily increasing to 20% roughly. However, silicon has an upper limit of roughly 29%. This means that people may want to look elsewhere for their solar power system in Frederick in time.
There are future applications in solar energy that are worth mentioning as well. In Western Russia, a mineral called perovskite was discovered. Notably, it’s been shown to be an efficient and effective material for solar panels. In addition, it’s also easy to create via many common metals. However, you probably won’t see it anytime soon, as it’s still in a lab testing phase, a far cry from even practical testing. There are also other concerns, like the fact that it degrades quickly with water exposure. Of course, that won’t do for something that needs to go on the roof.
Other concepts are also showing use, like solar plus. This stores and uses excess power to minimize the strain on the greater electric grid, then using the excess electricity when you need it, like while you commute home during the summer.