The Earth receives a total of 173,000 terawatts of power from the sun at any given moment. That is 10,000 times the whole worlds energy use. This is the main reason that solar power is seen to be one of the leading renewable energy sources due to the vast amounts available. However, difficulty in converting this sunlight into useable energy forms creates difficult engineering challenges. Most renewable energy sources ultimately originate form from energy that has come in the form of sunlight radiation. Wind, Waves, Hydro and Tidal are all either caused or influenced by solar power and so it seems the most logical step would be to go straight to the source.
Solar power is the production of electricity by harnessing the radiation emitted by the sun and this can be done two ways:
Solar Thermal is the indirect use of indirect use of solar radiation to generate power, most notably by using solar heat to raise steam, which then drives a conventional turbine according to the Rankine Cycle (known as concentrated solar power (CSP))
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) is the direct use of sunlight radiation to generate electricity.
Although photovoltaic effects have been known to occur in certain metals since they were first described by Edmond Becquerel in 1839, the resulting current in those materials was far too weak to be useful. It was only with the advent of synthetic semi-conductor materials in the 1950s that PV became a potentially viable generation technology .The earliest cells only converted about 1% of the solar radiation they received into electricity .Research led to rising efficiencies, reaching 25% in the early 2000’s, and up to 44% today .The most efficient PV cells currently commercially- available are performing up to about 22%
How do they work?
Two thin layers of contrasting semiconductor material are laid together: both are usually made of silicon, but one will be ‘doped’ with phosphorous, which results in it having a negative electrostatic charge (hence called an n-type semiconductor). While the other will have a ‘dopant’ such as boron, which gives it a positive charge (p-type semiconductor) - the interface between the two is called a p-n junction. When solar radiation hits a p-n junction, it excites electrons in the n-type material, and these are then attracted into the p-type material, thus creating a flow of electrons (i.e. an electrical current). The current can be tapped by means of metal contacts above and below the silicon ‘sandwich’
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