You can feel it – the sun’s burning rays are definitely powerful. But how do we convert all of that energy into something that can power a hair dryer, microwave, or light bulb?
The process, while sounding very scientific, is actually quite simple.
Sunlight is made up of particles of solar energy called photons, which contain numerous amounts of energy corresponding to the different wavelengths of the solar spectrum. When semiconducting materials are exposed to sunlight, and therefore photons, they release small amounts of electricity, a process known as the photoelectric effect.
The photoelectric effect refers to the emission of electrons from the surface of a metal in response to light. It is the basic physical process in which a solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) cell converts sunlight to electricity.
When photons strike a PV cell, they may be reflected, absorbed, or they may pass right through. Only the absorbed photons can actually generate electricity. When the PV cell manages to absorb a photon, the energy is then transferred to an electron in an atom of the PV cell.
With the new energy, the electron escapes from its normal position in the atom and becomes part of the current in an electrical circuit. Then, the special electrical properties of the PV cell—a built-in electric field—provide the voltage needed to drive the current through an external load, such as your hairdryer.
So the next time you turn on a light switch or electronic device, consider powering it with the sun’s energy by switching to solar today.