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Solar Energy and Photovoltaic Cell

Solar Energy and Photovoltaic Cell

Solar energy

Solar energy is the most abundant form of natural energy available on earth. The incident sunlight or solar energy is more than the reflected or scattered sunlight. If the total amount of incident solar energy is optimized, it has a huge potential to sustain the energy that can serve future generations. It will be available for the next 4 billion years and is inexhaustible. It is the most abundant form of renewable energy source. Unlike fossil fuels which cause pollution upon burning, solar energy is clean and does not create any pollution. Therefore, investment and research in solar energy can help develop a sustainable future and eliminate the current energy crisis.

Solar energy has only one drawback. The radiation needed to excite photons in solar panels is not constant and depends upon the geographical area of the earth. Some regions get 80 to 90% of sunlight, whereas others get around 10 to 15% of sunlight. Moreover, sunlight's visible, infrared, and ultraviolet radiations have different intensities to activate solar panels. The regions near the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn receive enormous sunlight throughout the year. Therefore, the countries, including India, present near these latitudes have enormous potential to channelize solar energy.

Photovoltaic cell

The photovoltaic cell works on the principle of the photovoltaic effect. The photovoltaic effect is the process by which electricity is generated due to the presence of sunlight. A photovoltaic cell converts solar energy into electricity. One or more photovoltaic cells are arranged in a panel known as a solar panel. A common single-junction silicon solar cell can produce a maximum voltage of 0.5 to 0.6 volts approximately.

The photovoltaic effect was demonstrated by French physicist Edmund Becquerel. In 1839, he built the first photovoltaic cell. The operation of a photovoltaic (PV) cell requires three basic steps:
1. Generation of electron-hole pairs due to the absorption of light
2. The separation of positive and negative charge carriers
3. To extract those charge carriers to form electricity

Principle and working

A photovoltaic cell works on the principle of the photovoltaic effect. A photovoltaic cell is made up of a combination of two types of semiconductors – n-type and p-type. When they are joined together, they create a p-n junction, which develops an electric field due to doped charges.

As soon as the sunlight incidents on these photovoltaic cells, the particles excite and travel within the semiconductor. The negatively charged ions move towards the p-type, and the positively charged ions move towards the n-type junction. This flow of electrons generates electricity. The excitation of electrons depends upon the intensity of incident sunlight, doping in the semiconductor and the material with which the photovoltaic cell is made.

If the intensity of sunlight is less, the electricity generated will be less. Likewise, if the doping is less, the flow of electrons will be less, which will reduce the making of electricity. Moreover, the material inside the photovoltaic cell is also important. For example, Germanium excites more electrons than Silicon. As a result, costly solar panels are made up of Ge, while cheap ones are made up of Si.

A battery is attached to the photovoltaic cell to store electricity. If an enormous amount of electricity is generated, then the battery stores it when there is no sufficient sunlight.

Applications of photovoltaic cell

1. It is used in space to move shuttles where energy sources are limited.
2. Photovoltaic cells are used in solar panels and solar water heaters across the globe.
3. They are predominantly being used in the semiconductor industries to generate power.
4. They are clean sources of energy that do not create any pollution.
5. They can be replaced with petrol vehicles if the solar batteries are attached to the cars.
6. Solar panels can be installed in any house. Therefore, every household can get electricity.

Advantages of photovoltaic cells

1. They are a cleaner source of energy production as the source is the Sun. No pollutants are released during electricity generation. With the use of solar energy, we can reduce carbon emissions, creating a sustainable environment.
2. There is a lesser amount of loss in energy.
3. The energy production is completely noiseless.
4. Operating and maintenance cost is less.
5. They can be installed at any place without much effort.

Disadvantages of photovoltaic cells

1. Their installation cost is high. But it is a one-time investment.
2. The generation of electricity is entirely dependent upon sunlight, which depends on the geographical conditions of the earth.
3. Solar energy cannot be transmitted far off places.
4. Solar energy produces direct currents. To convert it to alternating current, more equipment is needed.

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