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Photovoltaic Solar Cells

Crystalline silicon solar wafer

Solar cells are the technology that has unlocked the ability to harness the sun's energy and convert it into electricity. The method is called the "photovoltaic effect."

Although it may seem to be a wonder of modern technology, the first solar cell was actually invented in 1839 by a French physicist. It had an efficiency rating of 1%, but it did work. Modern crystalline silicon solar cells are nearing efficiency ratings of 33%.

Solar cells produce electricity by the "photoelectric effect" which is briefly described as the photons in sunlight being absorbed by the solar cell, which then causes negatively charged electrons to knock loose from their atoms and flow through the cell to produce electricity。 

The most popular solar cell in use today is made of crystalline silicon。 They are recognizable by the metal flake effect on their surface。 The same material is used in integrated circuits and CPU manufacturers such as Intel and AMD。 

Crystalline silicon cells are by far the most popular type of photovoltaic solar cell on the market. Although they are an old technology, they take up the least amount of space per wattage of electricity produced. They have proven their longevity and, if properly maintained, can last for 20-30 years or more. 

Thin film solar array made of Amorphous silicon 

Another technology in use today is the amorphous silicon solar cell. It is used in "thin-film" cell solar arrays and is less expensive to manufacture but is not as efficient as crystalline silicon solar cells. 

Whenever you hear about the cost of photovoltaic solar panels going down, it is because of increases in the demand for crystalline silicon cells (which drive the price down) and the development of amorphous silicon solar cells。

With amorphous silicon cells, more surface area is required in order to achieve the same wattage output。 This has slowed its growth but research is continuing to be done to improve its efficiency and it is widely believed to be the future of solar energy。 Here is why:

  • Watt for watt, amorphous silicon solar cells only cost half as much to manufacture. 
  • It is not as fragile as the silicon wafers used in crystalline silicon cells.
  • The thin-film cells are flexible and can be used in a variety of applications such as solar shingles

Some solar panels combine both the amorphous and crystalline silicon cells in the same panel. 

Photovoltaic solar cells have varying outputs and are rated according to wattage. Panels can produce 200 watts or more of electricity when the panel is completely free of debris and receiving direct sun. Panels are priced according to the amount of wattage they produce. Manufacturers include:

  • Evergreen
  • Kyocera
  • Mitsubishi
  • BP Solar
  • Sanyo
  • Sharp
  • Unisolar
  • Sunforce

Photovoltaic solar panels continue to grow in popularity with their production doubling about every two years. When it comes to harnessing renewable energy, catching energy directly from the sun is an exciting way of reducing our carbon footprint and reducing air pollution.

To learn how to shop for solar panels, we encourage you to read through our extensive buying guide found on this web site. 

Coming soon: Sign up for our free six part mini-course on how to properly plan for adding solar and wind energy to your home.

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