Facts about Solar Energy

Solar Energy Facts

Posted by Admin / in Science Facts

solar energy facts

The History of Solar Energy

There is no doubt that the sun has been used by people throughout history to get work done. An example is using sunlight to tan or dry animal skins to make leather. In order to generate electricity using light from the sun, however, required a few technological breakthroughs. Here are some of the scientific achievements that notably led to today's solar panel technology.

  • The first breakthrough for generating electricity from sunlight came in 1839. It was then when a French Scientist named Edmond Becquerel performed the first photovoltaic experiment. Mr. Becquerel produced electricity by placing two metal electrodes in a liquid that promoted the conductivity of electricity

  • A material was discovered called selenium that could produce electricity when it is exposed to sunlight. The discovery of selenium was made by three men from 1873-1876. Willoughby Smith, William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day were the three men to make this discovery.

  • In 1918 Jan Czochralski, a Polish scientist, discovered how to grow single crystal silicon.

  • In 1954 Daryl Chapin, Gerald Pearson and Calvin Fuller developed the first silicon photovoltaic solar cell while working at Bell Labs. This breakthrough opened up the possibility of using sunlight to generate electricity. Bells labs was able to successfully build a solar electricity generating cell, but it was not efficient and was very expensive.

  • By 1957 Hoffman Electronics was able to design a PV cell that could convert 9 percent of the sunlight collected by the cell into electricity..

  • By 1960 Hoffman Electronics was able to make a PV solar cell that was 14 percent efficient.

  • In the late 1950s and 1960s the United States and Russia use solar PV cells to help power satellites sent into space.

  • By 1985 the University of South Wales was able to make a 20 percent efficient solar cell.

  • By 1994 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory was able to make a 30 percent efficient solar cell.

Ways that Sunlight is Used to Generate Electricity

Solar energy is electricity and other forms of potential energy that are gathered from the sun. Every day the sun provides a tremendous amount of energy to the earth. We are now learning new ways to capture this energy for other uses.

  • One of the oldest ways that sunlight has been used is to replace the energy needed to heat water. Solar panels containing tubing for water are used to heat the water in the tubes. The heated water for bathing/showers, laundry and swimming pools can then be used, replacing the need to heat water with fossil fuels.

  • More intense heating was water is also used, but in a different way. Sunlight can be combined from multiple solar panels or solar dishes to direct the energy from the sun to a specific point. In sunny areas, there is enough energy to heat the water enough to convert it to steam. The steam is then used to generate electricity by making an electromagnetic turbine rotate. This is known as a solar thermal power station.

  • Another type of solar power station uses oil instead of water flowing through curved troughs which have a mirrored surface. Energy from the sun super-heats the oil to a temperature near 750 degees F (400 degrees C). The heated oil is pumped to a boiler, which heats water until it turns to steam. The steam is used to generate electricity by rotating a turbine.

curved solar panel system

This solar power plant in California uses curved mirrored panels focus energy from the sun to heat liquid which is used to generate electricity.

  • Sunlight can also be converted directly to DC electricity. Photovoltaic (PV) cells are used to convert sunlight to electricity. The amount of electricity that PV solar panels can generate is based on the size of the panels, the intensity of the sun and the efficiency of the panels. PV solar panels differ from other types of solar panels because they are made from coated semi-conductor material.

solar power systems

This solar power system on a residential home collects energy from the sun and converts it to electricity which is stored in batteries for later use.

Solar Energy Facts

  • The word photovoltaic is a combination of two words. The Greek work "phos" means light. The term voltaic is named after the Italian scientists Alessandro Volta.

  • Today there are many small objects that use solar power. The one you may see the most is a solar-powered calculator.

  • Some countries do not have access to safe drinking water because the water contains bacteria or there is no electricity in remote locations to pump water from a well. Solar power is being used to help bring safe water to people in these areas. Solar cookers are also used to heat water until it is disinfected so it is safe to drink.

  • There are 3 types of photovoltaic (PV) cells used to generate electricity directly from sunlight. The 3 types include Amorphous silicon (thin film), Single crystal (monocrystalline) and Multicrystalline (polycrystalline).

  • The International Space Station is powered by PV solar cells. Over 250,000 solar cells line the surfaces of the space station, providing enough electricity to power 55 average houses.

  • In 2001 a solar-powered aircraft named Helios set a record for the highest altitude flight by non-rocket power. The NASA aircraft reached an altitude of 96,863 feet.

  • In 2012 an aircraft named the Solar Impulse became the first aircraft to successfully make an intercontinental light using only solar power when it travelled from Europe to Africa.

  • The World Solar Challenge is a race that is held every two years in Australia. Vehicles in this race must travel 1900 miles (3000 km) powered only by solar energy.

  • The world's largest power station that uses solar photovoltaic power is the Topaz solar farm located in Southern California. The Topaz solar energy plant is expected to output a maximum of 550 Megawatts.

  • The world's largest power station that uses solar thermal power is located in the Majave Desert in California. It is called Ivanpah. Ivanpah uses over 900,000 mirrors to direct sunlight to boil water to make steam for electricity generation. When there is good sunlight, this solar power station provides electricity for 140,000 homes.

Ivanpah solar power plant- Majave Desert California

The Ivanpah thermal solar power plant in the Majave Desert in California is the lagest solar thermal power plant in the world.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, experts believe that electricity produced by solar panels will cost the same as traditional energy power plants by the year 2025.

  • Scientists estimate that if only 4 percent of the world's deserts contained solar energy plants, all of the electricity currently needed in the world would be available. Transmitting the power to where it is needed is a separate challenge.

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