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Principals &

Developments in
Solar Power
The Weekly Academic
How Does Solar
Power Work?
Most of the power we use is created with generators, which
turns kinetic energy into electric energy. Fossil fuels, wind
power, and hydroelectric power all work this way.

Solar power, however, is created using the photovoltaic effect.

This is the direct conversion of light into electric energy.

Solar panels are made of solar cells, which are themselves made
of many thin layers of different materials. Sunlight, when
interacting with solar panels, excites the electrons in a n-p
junction (two paired layers of silicon, one negative and one
positive), which break off their atoms. They are which are then
pushed out of the n-p junction and into another part of the cell,
which converts them into a more usable form. The charged
electrons are pushed out because an electric field is created in GIF showing the sun exciting electrons in
the cell by layering negatively charged elements on top of photovoltaic cell.
positively charged elements.
Diagram of a the layers of a typical solar cell and of the electron
movement in a typical solar cell.
Limitations in Modern Solar Cells
There are a handful of factors limiting the usefulness of current solar cells. One of the
biggest is the limited range of energy they can work on. The electrons in a n-p junction
need a very precise amount of energy to be pushed up a level and broken off of their
atom - think of stairs; the typical stair height is 7 inches, so if you raise your foot six
inches or sixteen inches, you will trip. In the same way, any given semiconductor layer
of a solar cell can be affected only by a very narrow range of photon wavelengths.

People have tried to get around this issue by layering many different n-p junctions atop
each other in a solar cell, each with different ranges, but as semiconductors react they
produce heat - so the more layers of semiconductors a cell has, the more prone it is
overheating. Right now, the world record is 44.7% efficiency at 4 junctions. 5 and 6
junction cells are in development. Multi-junction cells are also very expensive, so they
are used primarily by space-agencies and other organisations that can hand-wave the
costs; currently, two-junction cells are the highest seen in commercial vendors.
in Commercial
Solar Power
There have been many advancements
in commercial solar power in the last
few years. Frameless solar panels,
Tesla solar tiles, and solar skins are all
advancements geared towards
making solar power more
aesthetically pleasing towards
homeowners, and thus more widely
used. New developments in solar
water purifiers, solar thermal fuel, and
solar tracking mounts have also made
solar power more practical. New
developments in energy storage, like
the Tesla Powerwall, are also making
solar energy more practical. The Smartflower solar tracking mount, designed for easy installation
and maintenance.
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