Solar Panel : How Does It Work

how-does-a-solar-panel-work
However, the first real use of the photo electric effect to generate power happened over 100 years later at Bell laboratories in 1954. By 1958, solar power was being used to produce power on U.S. spacecraft. Since that time, the methods have stayed the same, but the components of today’s solar cells are so much more efficient that they have become a major source of alternative energy around the globe. But how do solar panels work?

Solar Panel Basics

The basic mechanism behind a solar panel is something you learned about in high school science, electron shells and valence bonding. Bet you never thought you’d need to know about that in your everyday life. Here is a quick refresher.

  • Molecules seek to attain a balance between the number of protons and electrons in each of their atoms.
  • When they are in balance, the molecule is stable.
  • When the molecule is not in balance, from either gaining or losing an electron, it seeks to remedy this by returning to balance.

When sunlight hits a solar panel, photons from the light dislodge electrons from the molecules in the upper layer of the solar panel. These electrons are the source of the electricity that is generated by the panel.

Composition of the Solar Cell

The smallest unit of a solar panel is an individual solar cell. Several cells are wired together to create a module. Each module is placed within a panel and is designed to supply electricity at a particular voltage, most commonly 12 volts.

Every solar cell consists of several major components sandwiched together in a thin wafer. They can be assembled as follows:

In a traditional solar cell

  • Glass panel
  • N-Silicon layer
  • P-Silicon layer
  • Glass panel

In an organic solar cell

  • Thin film plastic or acrylic layer
  • Carbon nanotube layer
  • Organic electrolyte layer
  • Thin film plastic or acrylic layer

Titanium dioxide dye panel

  • Upper shell
  • Electrical conductor
  • Electrolyte layer
  • Catalyst layer
  • Lower shell

Traditional Solar Panels

In traditional solar panels, the shell layers were, up until quite recently, made primarily of silicon. Silicon is not a very efficient natural conductor, so it must be prepared in a process known as “doping.” The two shell layers are combined with different compounds to make them more efficient. One layer is doped with phosphorous for the positively charged (N-Silicon) panel, and the other is doped with boron for the negatively charged (P-Silicon) side.

New Organic Panels

Understanding how solar panels work in the traditional sense will help you understand why the new organic solar panels are getting such a buzz. Traditional solar panels are very rigid and costly to produce. New organic panels have the potential to eliminate both of these issues.

The Chemistry of Titanium Dioxide Solar Cells

In one new type of cell, a small amount of sunlight is absorbed into a hardened acrylic top layer. Just beneath this layer is a dye sensitized layer of titanium dioxide. This is the molecule that the electrons are knocked off from by absorbed photons. These electrons are routed out of the cell via electrical conductive wires attached directly to the titanium dioxide layer of the cell. The electrons travel through this wire creating a direct current – this is the electricity. The electric current can be routed to a converter to power alternating current tools or to a battery bank for later use.

Which Type Will Win Out?

As solar technology continues to improve, we will see the death of the traditional silicon based solar panel. Whether activated die or organic solar panels become the industry standard will likely be determined by how efficient the organic offerings can become. They have the advantage of being thin enough to be flexible and adaptable enough to be placed on several different types of material. Only time will tell, but either way it goes, solar power is going to be a huge part of future power generation. One day, the power of the sun might be directly powering your espresso machine.

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15 Most Profitable Small-Business Industries

15-most-profitable-small-business-industriesWhat makes these industries profitable? For one, they’re driven by human capital.

“Service industries,” says Sageworks analyst Jenna Weaver, “are very common to find on the most profitable small-business list. This is generally due to lower overhead and startup costs. A lot of these industries you can start from your house.”

While profit isn’t the only matter for an entrepreneur to consider — other factors to consider are whether the business matches his or her skills, what sort of licensing or training is required and how the business would fare during a recession — it’s an important place to start.

1. Accounting, Tax Preparation, Bookkeeping and Payroll Services:
accounting-tax-preparation-bookkeeping-and-payroll-services“The accounting industry is consistently a top performer on our list,” says Sageworks’ Weaver. No matter how the economy is doing, everyone needs accountants. Also, this industry tends to have low overhead and repeat clients.

2. Management of Companies and Enterprises:
Management of Companies and Enterprises.jpgThis industry is made up of small, privately-owned offices of bank holding companies and other types of holding companies.

3. Offices of Real Estate Agents and Brokers:
Offices of Real Estate Agents and Brokers.jpgWhile the real-estate market is largely dependent on the health of the economy, real-estate brokers and agents have low operating costs and all you need to get started is an agent or brokerage license.

4. Automotive Equipment Rental and Leasing:
Automotive Equipment Rental and Leasing.jpgWith the on-demand economy on the rise, Sageworks analyst Libby Bierman says that people may be leasing and renting more cars using on-demand services such as Zipcar — along with more traditional rental services such as Hertz.

5. Legal Services:
legal-servicesAnyone who has ever hired a lawyer knows it’s not cheap. Law, like accounting, generally has low operating costs as well as repeat clients. However, this business category includes not only lawyers, but notaries, settlement officers (who deal in the transaction of securities) and title search agents in real estate.

6. Offices of Dentists:
Offices of Dentists.jpgDentists, like physicians, benefit from recurring patients, and while startup costs can be expensive — dental equipment is quite costly — the profession has the advantage of handling several patients at a time, plus many pay out of pocket.

7. Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution:
electric-power-generation-transmission-and-distributionThis category of small, privately-held electric power companies includes not just your traditional, fossil fuel electric powers but also hydroelectric, nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal and more.

8. Lessors of Real Estate:
Lessors of Real Estate.jpgLessors, also known as landlords, show that renting both residential and nonresidential properties is a profitable gig once you recover the initial costs of purchase.

9. Offices of Other Health Practitioners:
offices-of-other-health-practitionersHow is this category different from physicians? It’s not, really. There is a census delineation between chiropractors, optometrists, mental-health practitioners and podiatrists — who fall under this category of “other health practitioners” — and all other types of physicians.

10. Offices of Physicians:
Offices of Physicians.jpgBeing a doctor requires years of training, certification and likely, medical school debt. However, doctors also benefit from regular clients and relatively low overhead costs.

11. Commercial and Industrial Machinery and Equipment Rental and Leasing:
Commercial and Industrial Machinery and Equipment Rental and Leasing.jpgIt pays to rent or lease. These businesses typically rent or lease commercial machinery and equipment across industries.

12. Religious Organizations:
Religious Organizations.pngReligious organizations are having a profitable year. Really. Remember, being not-for-profit doesn’t mean your goal shouldn’t be to make a profit. It’s just how you distribute those gains. Instead of giving profits to shareholders, all of yours go to your organization’s mission, which is the furthering of your church’s aims. It has been a good year not only for churches, synagogues, monasteries, mosques and temples, but also for schools, colleges and universities that are operated by religious organizations.

13. Management, Scientific and Technical Consulting Services:
management-scientific-and-technical-consulting-serviceSome types of businesses that fall under this category are businesses that provide either management or consulting on a range of expertise, including human resources, marketing and environmental issues.

14. Specialized Design Services:
Specialized Design Services.jpgSmall businesses that specialize in interior, industrial and graphic design are flourishing, as the value of a product or business’s function has become inextricably linked to appearance and design.

15. Office Administrative Services:
Office Administrative Services.pngThese administrative businesses are the backbone of business operations across a variety of industries — from food services to physicians offices — and provide the day-to-day administrative services, such as record keeping, financial planning and billing.

NOTE : Originally published March 4, 2016.