Solar Energy

WHAT IS SOLAR ENERGY?

Learn more about solar energy and how solar technology evolved over time to be where it is today

Derived from the Latin world sol, the sun is our earth’s natural source of life, light and heat. Together, the words solar energy refer to the energy given off by the sun’s heat —an energy that can neither be created nor destroyed, but is instead converted into other forms of energy such as electricity

  

Our sun is a natural nuclear reactor and is continually releasing energy in the form of photons. When a photon hits the solar panel on your roof or in your yard, the energy is transferred into loose electrons, freeing them from their atoms. These electrons run along a series of cells in your solar panel which are made up of the semi-conducting material silicon


Each panel is made of solar cells, and each cell contains two slices of silicon. Much like a magnetic field requires two opposite poles, a solar cell requires two opposite charges to create an electric field. To do this, manufacturers add electrons to one slice of silicon using phosphorus, and protons to the other slice using boron


With an electric field intact, the loose electrons that hit your solar panels from the sun are then pushed out of the silicon and into conductive metal plates, and flow into wires to be used just like any other form of electricity, providing a clean and cost-effective alternative to powering your home

Watch the video to learn about the different components that make a solar system

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOLAR ENERGY

A mere two centuries have passed since humankind discovered the ability to transfer energy from the sun into usable electricity


In 1839, a scientist by the name of Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered that certain materials could produce electric current when exposed to light. Decades later, photovoltaic cells made from the solid material selenium were developed, producing an electric current from light at a 1-2 percent efficiency. It would take nearly a century for photovoltaics to evolve before use for commercial purposes

In 1954, manufacturers began producing photovoltaic cells using silicon, and the first commercial solar cells went to market at a two percent efficiency. In the 1960s, commercial cells reached up to 10 percent efficiency and a trend towards renewable energy would begin. Today, a standard solar panel runs anywhere from a 15-22 percent efficiency; meaning, 15 percent of the sun’s energy absorbed is converted into usable electricity

For the past decade, the solar energy industry has been expanding steadily at an average annual growth rate of 59 percent. Why the rapid expansion? Thanks to the internet and availability of information, businesses and homeowners are recognizing the benefits of going solar. From tax breaks, to decreased energy costs and an improved environmental footprint, solar energy is a clear competitor in the renewable energy space