Everybody knows that our modern society relies heavily on energy in order to function properly. Today we are entirely dependent on a secure energy supply for day-to-day life. Almost all household devices run on electricity. As our energy needs continue to increase, scientists continue improving alternative energy sources; one of them being solar power.
Solar power is now one of the most widely adopted energy sources in the world. One reason for solar power’s mass adoption is the fact that our current energy sources drastically affect the planet’s atmosphere due to emissions of greenhouse gas. Not to mention that fossil fuels are finite resources. Due to this, scientists started looking to renewable energy sources, like hydro, wind and solar power. Solar photovoltaics are the devices that enable us to use energy from the sun.
A solar photovoltaic converts sunlight into direct current electricity. This process is possible due to certain materials that have a interesting property named “photovoltaic effect.” These materials are semiconductors (as they exhibit electrical conductivity) and when used for photovoltaic purposes they generate electric current when exposed to light (the photovoltaic effect). Essentially, when photons (light particles emitted from the sun) hit a semiconductor, they release electrons which are then either used to power household devices or sent to the grid.
The photovoltaic effect was first observed 176 years ago and the first solar photovoltaic device was developed in 1954 by Bell Labs. When the first solar cells were manufactured, they were very expensive as is always the case with new technologies.
Research and development plus advances in manufacturing processes have led to a decreased cost of photovoltaics, so much so that today solar energy is widely used, and solar photovoltaics recoup the energy needed to manufacture them in 1.5 to 2.5 years. Thanks to research and development breakthroughs, today’s solar photovoltaics benefit of not only decreased manufacturing costs, but also of increased efficiency, being able to generate more electricity than the first solar photovoltaics.
With the decrease of manufacturing costs, solar photovoltaics were adopted on a larger scale and new ways of developing them were discovered. Solar photovoltaics are (and will be) used for:
- Powering household devices.
- Sending power to the grid.
- Powering traffic signs and traffic lights.
- Powering roads (there are already a few projects (both in Europe and in the United States) of solar powered highways.)
- Powering vehicles.
As you see, solar photovoltaics will continue to be very important to our future. Not only is it an easily accessible green energy source, but it is also the third most important renewable energy source in the world (after hydro and wind power). Since solar photovoltaics is now affordable to everybody (due to decreased manufacturing costs but also due to decreased installation costs), it represent one of the most important energy sources that we can get our hands on.
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