A lot of calculators never use batteries, some wristwatches don’t need rewinding and the cars of the future will not have to pass by a fuel pump ever again. The answer? It lies in solar energy – and the tiny silicon atoms that make up a solar cell.
Thanks to the wonderful science of photovoltaics – the field of study related to the technology and application of solar cells to produce energy – many products can now be powered by the sun. And it all just starts with a solar cell, the basic device that you need to convert solar energy into usable electricity.
In theory, how solar cells work is really quite simple. Tiny particles called photons in sunlight are absorbed by the solar cell which is made from silicon (a semiconductor).
As sunlight hits the cell, the electrons inside the solar panels get ‘excited’ and start to move around, until they are knocked off from their atoms. They then flow through the silicon panel, creating electricity. The solar-generated energy can now be put to work – from lighting a bulb, heating a pool, cooling your house, or it can be stored in a battery for future use.
Now that you know the science and the principle behind the solar cells, perhaps you would like to give it a shot by making one in your very own home.
Using materials easily bought from the hardware store (i.e. a copper sheet and a simple micro-ammeter) and borrowing things from your very own kitchen (such as an electric stove and table salt), you can make your very own representation of a solar cell. However, do not plan on covering your entire roof with this homemade variety just yet. While it may be effective in illustrating the scientific concept of photovoltaics, it can probably power no more than a single light bulb.