Solar panels are devices made to convert solar energy into either electricity or heat. While most think of it as new technology, the basic concept has already been in use since around a hundred years ago to heat water in homes. Declared by many as one of the alternatives to oil and coal power with the most potential, the use of solar panels has been steadily gaining ground as the technology advances further.
The origins of solar panels date way back to the early 1839 when French physicist Antoine Cesar Bequerel came across the correlation of light and electricity through the photovoltaic effect in an experiment with an electrolytic cell made of two metal electrodes in an electrolyte solution. He observed that output increased when the cell was exposed to light.
Around forty-four years later, the first genuine solar panel was created by Charles Fritts. His invention was made by sheets of selenium coated with a thin layer of gold.
From then on up to mid-20th century, many experimented with the idea of solar energy. During this time, a Baltimore inventor by the name of Clarence Kemp patented the first commercial solar water heater. Also, Albert Einstein wrote and published a thesis on the photoelectric effect and received a Nobel Prize in Physics for his research years later. Another contribution was made by a Carnegie Steel Company employee named William Baily who invented the very first solar collector by putting copper coils in an insulated box.
Later on, while working for Bell Laboratories, American inventor Russell Ohl patented the first proper silicon solar cell in 1941. With this innovation, Bell Laboratories went on to produce the very first crystalline silicon solar panel thirteen years later. The original mass-production model’s design had 4% efficiency in energy conversion. The technology was continually improved over the years, leading to solar panels with at least 6% efficiency.
The technology went on to be used for space missions. Space satellites were one of the first things to use solar panels in practice. By this time, the US had already started to produce solar panels with 20% efficiency. Nowadays, Spectrolab and Emcore Photovoltaics lead the world in solar cell production, producing panels with 28% efficiency.
Most solar panels are made out of pure silicon, which is a semi-conductor that is ideal for channeling energy. With impurities and foreign substances removed, the silicon serves as the ideal neutral platform for transmitting electrons. As silicon’s natural state holds four electrons, it is to be understood that according to modern chemistry that it can handle four more. Once a silicon atom combines with another, they will share their electrons to form a stable molecule containing eight valence electrons and giving it a neutral charge. This concept is the basis for modern solar panels.
As an alternative source of energy, solar panels have pros and cons that come along with its implementation worldwide. It is clean and can be used at any place where there is adequate sunlight. However, that is also its drawback as you will need sunlight for it to create electricity. Also, it is still expensive as the technology as an independent power source has yet to become within reach of mainstream.
However it may be; solar panels, along with other alternatives as wind turbines, hydrogen fuel cells, and so on, do have the potential to replace conventional fossil fuels as the main source of energy. As long as research and interest on the technology remains present, it is possible!