How Solar Cells Work
Learning about how solar cells work is fun and educating, as well as it may help you to equip your home with a source of renewable solar energy, to start using solar panels as a portable power source for trips and vacationing, or to start employing solar energy for heating water (pools, water systems, etc.). Different types of solar cells have different mechanisms of action. In this article, I will describe the most common types of solar cells, and how solar cells work depending on their type and purpose.
How Solar Cells Work for Energy Generation
To date, solar cells are often used to generate electricity. Energy-generating photovoltaic solar cells use various semi conductive materials, with the most common one being silicon. Silicon is more expensive than some other semiconductors, but it is also the most cost-efficient one (to date). Silicon has different grades of efficiency depending on the type used: monocrystalline silicon has 14-17% efficiency, polycrystalline silicon has 13-15% efficiency, and amorphous silicon has 5-7% efficiency.
In power-generating solar cells, semi-conductive silicon is applied onto a substrate, whether a flexible substrate for low-power solar cells (used as a portable power source), or a rigid substrate for high-power solar cells (used to power homes with electric). Alternatively, silicon can also be used as a substrate on its own.
Each side of the silicon-based cell is doped in specific materials, which turn one side into positively-charged and another side into a negatively-charged surface. These sides form an electric field between them.
Once the sunlight hits such cell, silicon absorbs the light and sends it to the inverter (through special conductive coating). The inverter converts the received direct current into the regular alternating home current. Depending on the power of the system, the obtained regular current can power home appliances, can be fed into the grid, or can be sent to a battery in order to charge other devices or to store the electricity for future use.
How Solar Cells Work for Heat Generation
Heat-generating solar cells don't generate electric, and don't use any conductive materials. These cells have a completely different mechanism of action, which is used solely for heating. In domestic use, these cells are commonly employed to heat water in pools and in water-heating systems.
The cells are made of special plastic or rubber, and they can be glazed (with glass) or unglazed. The cells are assembled into panels, which are then mounted onto the rooftop or elsewhere in the sun. The system consists of a pump, filter, flow control valve, and solar cells (solar collectors). The pump helps to circulate water from the pool onto the solar collectors, which warm the water with the heat that they have absorbed from the sun. The warm water is then sent back to the pool. That is how solar cells work for heating water.
Furthermore, there is another type of heat-generating and heat-concentrating
solar cells, which are used as solar cookers in some undeveloped countries.
Solar cookers can provide a valuable replacement for expensive fossil
fuels to cook food using the heat of the sun.
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