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Many towns and municipalities are looking into various ways to cut utility costs, and one of the hot new trends is a move toward solar power. Solar power is a great alternative to other traditional forms of energy because it is free to use, and does not degrade our environment. Although solar photovoltaic cells have been in existence for decades, they have been successful primarily with powering smaller electrical items, such as small appliances and water heaters.
Residences can also be outfitted with solar panel arrays, which, in warm climates where the sun shines for most of the year, can be used to provide electricity to a single household. Green energy companies are in the process of developing, and some have had initial successes with, large solar power station facilities such that an entire town can run on efficient solar power.
But How Does Solar Electricity Work?
Getting the sun to give us electricity is somewhat of a complicated process, but it can be described simply in the following way: you first need a material that can soak up the sun’s rays, and that energy capture material is known as a semiconductor. After the energy from sunlight has been captured, the energy is released in the solar cell as electrons, which freely float around in no organized way.
To create electrical current that can be used by your washing machine or other electrical appliances, the solar cell needs an electrical field. This field makes the freewheeling electrons in the solar cell to move in a particular direction, which is what creates the electrical current. To get the electrical current out of the solar cell and to your electric appliances, you use metal contacts, which are situated at both the bottom and top of the cell.
Solar power efficiency comes into play when you consider the type of semiconductor material that is used. There are several types, but some of the most common are silicon, and a newer type of solar cell, called a thin film solar cell, can use not only silicon but also cadmium telluride or copper indium gallium deselenide.
The thin film technology has made it so that thin film cells are as energy efficient as silicon solar cells. Silicon solar cells are around fifteen to twenty-five percent efficient. In other words, eighty-five to seventy-five percent of all the energy produced by the solar cell goes into the production of the energy, and only fifteen to twenty-five percent of the energy produced is available to be used.
As solar power efficiency increases, more and more utility companies will be converting into solar power plant facilities, because once the initial investment in the system is paid off, the energy is produced for free, and free is a good price.