We are quite fond of mentioning solar powered devices here on Spark’s blog. Some of you may be slightly bamboozled about how these new-fangled gadgets work, treating anything which can convert the sun into electricity with a warranted level of scepticism.
Fear not as this isn’t alchemy or witchcraft. In fact, science can explain this particular sub-genre of black magic, providing answers to some of our reader’s queries.
So what exactly are solar panels and how do they work?
Let’s begin with a bit of a history lesson.
Solar is the Latin Word for Sun. People have used the brightest star in the sky as a source of heat for thousands of years – families in ancient Greece built their homes to get the most sunlight during the chilly winter months.
The process of turning the sun’s energy into electricity is called photovoltaics.
Solar panels work by allowing photons, (or light particles to you and me) to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electrics. They are made up of many smaller units called photovoltaic cells.
Each cell could be described as a sandwich of two slices of semi-conducting material, using silicon. The cells establish an electric field, which is a bit like a magnetic field occurring due to opposite poles.
To create this field, manufacturers alter the silicon by adding other materials to give each slice of the sandwich a positive or negative charge.
Looking at it in even more detail would reveal a phosphorous layer seeded into the top of each piece of silicon, adding extra electrons with negative charge.
The bottom layer also gets a bit of boron added to it, resulting in fewer electrons (or a positive charge). All of this produces an electric field in the junction between the two layers. When a light particle knocks an electron free, the electric field will push that electron out of the silicon junction.
Metal conductive plates on the cell capture all of the electrons and ultimately, help them travel to wires – like any other source of electricity.
But why should I use solar powered devices?
Essentially because they save you money on electricity while reducing the amount of energy you use ‘from the grid’ making them a good investment.