What is Solar Energy?
Discover how solar energy can benefit your home or business, decrease energy costs and improve environmental footprint.
Derived from the Latin world sol and eventually assuming the name solar in late middle English, our sun is the earth’s natural source of life, light and heat. Together, the words solar energy refer to the energy given off by the heat of the sun—an energy that can neither be created nor destroyed, but is instead converted into other forms of energy such as electricity. But how does solar energy work to power your home or business?
Our sun is a natural nuclear reactor and is continually releasing energy in the form of photons. Photons are a form of electromagnetic radiation that take roughly 8.5 minutes to hit the earth’s surface once they’ve been emitted.
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 photovoltaic cells in your solar panel which are made up of a semi-conducting material, silicon.
Each photovoltaic 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.
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. In 2017, nearly a quarter of a million Americans were employed in the solar energy industry, and the steadily decreasing cost of implementing solar technologies has the industry expanding rapidly nationwide.
But why the rapid expansion? Businesses and homeowners are beginning to recognize 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.
To learn more about how solar energy can benefit your home or business, contact IntegrateSun today.