Humans have been trying to harness the sun’s energy for most of history, but it was the invention of the first photovoltaic cell by French physicist Edmond Becquerel in 1839 that finally made solar energy possible on a grander scale.
Since then, solar has come a long way.
Not only has the cost of producing solar panels dropped like a rock, manufacturers are now routinely pumping out new innovations such as flexible solar cells, ultra-thin cells, and transparent photovoltaic windows. These could be game-changers for the industry, adding to the already incredible 39% annual growth occurring in US solar capacity between 2013-2017.
Animated Infographic: How Solar Panels Work
Today’s infographic comes from SaveOnEnergy, and it covers the science behind how solar panels work.
While it is fairly technical, the handy animations will help you understand the principles behind photovoltaic cells in no time at all.
In terms of our understanding of how different energy sources work, perhaps the photovoltaic effect is one of the least intuitive processes for the average person to comprehend. After all, something like capturing wind energy is much more straightforward. The wind spins a turbine, and that turbine generates electricity.
But solar panels have no moving parts. So how do these thin, glassy arrays turn sunlight into energy we can use?
Each solar cell is made of multiple layers. The top semiconductor is a negative layer, which means the material contains extra electrons. The sun’s energy “shakes” these electrons loose, and these electrons become naturally attracted to the bottom semiconductor layer, which is positively charged. The design of the cell forces electrons to move in a specific direction, creating an electrical current.
Why are solar panels getting so much cheaper? Technological advances have made cells more efficient in using the photovoltaic effect to create electricity, and manufacturing processes are improving as well.
Interestingly, in the future, it is expected that cost reductions will be tilted more to “soft” costs such as those related to the financing, permitting, and selling of solar projects.