Solar energy is, in its purest sense, the harnessing of the energy from the sun’s massive fusion reaction in some tangible way here on Earth for use in our own devices. While many different forms of energy can be classified as “solar” energy due to their relationship with the sun (such as wind, photovoltaic and even some thermal forms of power) the most common form of these brought to mind is photovoltaic or “solar cell” power.
Photovoltaic solar cells work in essence by utilizing a highly energy conducive substance to allow for electrons to easily be transferred between two polar fields as the sun hits them and then capturing these free roaming electrons in an energy conductor for storage and use. Because of its highly energy-friendly nature the most common substance used in photovoltaic cell creation is silicon as it can easily transfer electrons from one pole to another with minimal resistance. In order to be effective for photovoltaic cell usage, however, the silicon must be highly purified in order to prevent any impure non-silicon elements from interfering with the energy transfer process, and it is this purification process that is the primary cost contributor to photovoltaic cell production.
Once the silicon has been properly purified it is then polarized with both a positive and a negative charge, commonly denoted as -p for positive and -n for negative. This is done to allow a clear path for the electrons to flow as electrons hold a negative charge by nature and will naturally be attracted to a positively charged unit. The layers are then placed closely together with an energy collector “net” and the sunlight is allowed to bombard the negatively charged side of the silicon with energy. As the energy excites the electrons and replaces them in the negatively polarized matrix the excess electrons are released from the silicon-n and move towards the silicon-p where they are collected for usage by the “net” in the process.
Because this process can allow for a large number of electrons to escape as well as any impurities in the silicon to have a detrimental impact upon the overall electron transfer process photovoltaic solar cells are generally not very efficient in terms of pure energy conversion ability and are only able to maintain about 20% efficiency at peak times. Further, because excess heat can excite many electrons beyond controllable levels and weaken the effectiveness of the positively charged silicon field photovoltaic cells become less efficient the hotter they become – a major problem for them as the sun’s energy naturally carries heat as well as other necessary radiation that allows the cells to work.
Further development into more efficient photovoltaic cell technology is being conducted on a regular basis with new developments such as the ability to generate energy using silicon nanofibers rather than purified polarized plates being made regularly, however before many of these can be fully implemented or optimized for use extensive additional work must be done to perfect the processes in order to further increase efficiency and bring down costs before solar power becomes fully viable as an energy alternative.
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