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The Secrets of Solar Energy: Fascinating Facts About Solar Panels


The Secrets of Solar Energy: Fascinating Facts About Solar Panels

The extraction of energy from the power of the sun has always been fascinating. Beyond this general fascination, we live today in a time where the search for alternative energy sources beyond fossil fuels seems essential for a livable life on our planet Earth. Energy transition is the keyword in this context. Humans have been using the energy of the sun directly and indirectly since their existence. It is hard to imagine if the sun were suddenly no longer there. For example, volcanic eruptions have darkened the Earth several times and caused an icy climate. The eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland in 1783, for example, led to a real ice age. A cold wave subsequently spread across all of Europe. Even sea straits froze completely, and countless animals, plants, and even people died from the consequences. The sun is vital for us humans, and we benefit from it every day. In addition to the obvious direct and indirect benefits, we also benefit from technological developments that harness the power of solar energy. Solar technology, for example, can convert the sun's energy into the electricity we humans so urgently need. The subsequent battery technology can even store the energy so that we can access solar energy when we need it. This is truly fascinating.


How Solar Panels Really Work: A Look Behind the Technology

An entire industry sector is involved in the manufacture and optimization of solar panels, and extensive research is conducted at research institutes and universities. Solar technology is one of the great beacons of hope for the urgently needed so-called energy transition. Fundamentally, the function of a solar panel or a solar system is relatively simple. Sunlight hits the solar panel at a certain angle, the solar cells convert this energy into direct current, which is then forwarded to an inverter. There, it is converted into usable alternating current and fed into the power circuit. Silicon is used in 90 percent of all solar cells. The semiconductor is capable of electrically conducting solar energy.


Historical Milestones in the Development of Solar Energy

Fundamentally, life without the sun on Earth would not be possible. Some may remember the term photosynthesis from their school days. Yet, solar energy was also used early on as a tool. Already 640 years before the birth of Christ, Assyrians used polished lenses to ignite fire as a kind of burning glass, and the Egyptians directed sunlight into the interiors of their pyramids with the help of mirrors. However, it was a long way from this stage of early use of solar energy to today's solar systems. But it already shows how diverse the benefits of renewable energy sources are.

The first to discover that electrical energy could be harvested from the sun was the researcher Alexandre Edmond Becquerel in 1839. The then 19-year-old discovered during his experiments that the current between an anode and a cathode in electrolytic cells made of platinum became stronger when exposed to sunlight. Albert Einstein was able to explain this effect 70 years later and received the Nobel Prize for it.

A functioning solar cell was then available in 1954 and was celebrated as a revolution, even though the efficiency of this invention at that time was only 6 percent. Today, depending on the design, efficiencies range between 20 and 24 percent. As so often in human history, it took a crisis to make the technology interesting to the general public and industry. This came in 1973/74 in the form of an oil crisis. The Arab countries reduced production and imposed an embargo. The dependence on oil became more than clear and manifested itself in the famous car-free Sundays. Images of people walking on the highways in then West Germany went around the world. Research in the field of solar technology was intensified and by the mid-90s, due to decreasing acquisition costs and state subsidy programs and increased efficiency of solar panels, a level of efficiency and price was reached that made the installation of solar systems attractive for private and commercial customers. Moreover, the energy was celebrated as environmentally friendly.


Surprising Benefits and Features of Solar Panels

The biggest advantage of a solar system is surely the one-time investment in a product that can then be operated for the next few decades with almost no maintenance and very low subsequent costs. The advantages of solar panels are that they are very robust, almost indestructible by environmental influences, and function as soon as the sun shines. It is also possible to store the generated energy in battery storages, which also have a long lifespan. Modern battery storages are also very low-maintenance and, with the right technology, very safe.


Future Perspectives: What to Expect in the Solar Industry

The future of the solar industry looks like this: the next step is to store the generated electricity in battery storages that are networked with each other using smart technologies, so that battery storages can be charged and discharged as needed by individual actors. Since 2021, the installation of battery storages in Germany has picked up significantly. In 2019, about 42 thousand new energy storages were registered. In 2020, about 86 thousand, and in 2021 an impressive 132 thousand! In total, 326 thousand energy storages were registered in 2021. It seems that solar technology is unstoppable.

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