Solar4Scholars: Solar Electricity

What is solar electricity?

In solar photovoltaic energy, sunlight causes electrons to move and become electricity.

This technology was first developed for space travel in the 1950's. It was originally used to power satellites, a very practical use for solar, as there are no clouds in space.

Solar electricity is produced by solar cells that range in size from one square inch up to ten square inches. A single solar cell produces a small amount of electricity. Solar panels are made up of cells grouped together to produce a worthwhile amount of electricity.

Here on earth, we use solar electricity for a number of purposes. Solar panels (also called modules) are used to power homes. In some cases, people use small portable solar energy systems to power equipment for RVs, camping and other activities. You can find small solar cells on solar calculators and solar lights. Solar has many other practical uses, too.

How does a solar cell work?

Solar cells are most often made of crystals of silicon. Large silicon crystals are cut into thin wafers and fused together. These two separate wafers are composed of two different materials with different properties. When sunlight strikes the solar cell, photons dislodge electrons that travel from one layer to the other. This flow of electrons is, by definition, electricity.

How do people use solar energy?

When you have enough solar cells linked together in a solar panel, and these panels are also linked in an array, you can produce a serious amount of electricity! This can be used to power homes and even larger buildings. In parts of the world, there is enough sunlight to produce solar energy to power many homes.

People use solar energy systems that are tied to the grid and independent of the grid.

How do I learn more?

Read our pages on grid independent solar energy and grid tied solar energy.

Do a solar energy project:

We also have pages on solar thermal and experiments with solar water heating.

You can buy solar toys and take apart their solar cells.

Advertiser Links for solar panels [ what's this?]