Solar Panel – Concept, invention, operation and uses

We explain what a solar panel is and who invented this device. In addition, how it works and what it is used for.

Solar panel
The solar panel is considered an eventual alternative to traditional forms of energy.

What is a solar panel?

Solar panels or solar modules are devices designed to capture electromagnetic radiation from the Sun, for its subsequent use and transformation into various forms of useful energy, such as thermal energy (obtained by solar collectors) and electrical energy (obtained by photovoltaic panels).

This type of artifact emerged in the mid-twentieth century and harnessed to provide constant power to the satellites put into orbit around the Earth, and then to improve the quality of life of populations far from all forms of conventional electrical wiring or transmission.

Since then it has grown in importance as possible alternative to traditional forms of energy, put into crisis since the end of the century due to the extremely high world demand for energy and the high ecological cost of producing it.

Who Invented Solar Panels?

Solar panel - Vanguard 1
The first spacecraft to use solar panels was Vanguard 1.

Solar panels are inheritors of the primitive photovoltaic designs of the French physicist Alexandre-Edmunde Becquerel in 1839, although the first and rudimentary solar cell produced in 1883 was the American Charles Fritts. Although it was only 1% efficient, it attracted enough attention that in 1946 Russel Ohl patented the modern solar cell.

However, it was in 1954 that Bell Labs found that silicon semiconductors were very sensitive to light, allowing the manufacture of the first commercial solar cell with an approximate yield of 6% in that same decade, which allowed the launch of the first Soviet and American satellites in 1957 and 1958 respectively, using a solar cell design from the Hoffman Electronics company. . The first spacecraft to use solar panels was the American Vanguard 1, launched in 1958.

Contemporary versions of the solar panel would appear in 1970 (endowed with gallium arsenide or GaAs heterostructure) and 1980 (with chemical deposition of metals by organic vapors). With these new models the efficiency of the solar panels was raised up to 22% and in later versions (2007) to 30%.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panel
The solar panel constantly captures the thermal and / or light energy of the solar radiation.

Solar panels absorb the sun’s radiation thanks to the set of crystals made of semiconductor material that compose them: crystalline silicon or gallium arsenide, and that when connected they respond to the photovoltaic effect, according to which certain matter can emit electrons when bombarded with electromagnetic radiation (generally visible light or ultraviolet light).

These materials receive sunlight and generate an electric field, which is then redirected through cables and transmitters to storage devices. Thus, the structures of stainless metal panels are constantly exposed to sunlight, constantly capturing thermal and / or light energy from solar radiation.

Uses of solar panels

Solar panel
Cos solar thermal collectors you can get hot water for everyday use.

Solar panels are used to generate heat and electricity from sunlight, quickly said. Depending on the case, we can talk about two types of panels:

  • Thermal solar collectors. Solar panels through which water or a thermoreceptor liquid is circulated, which is heated with the energy captured from the sun and is then pumped into a thermos full of drinking water, to which the transmitted heat is transferred and the cycle is restarted. This way you can get hot water for daily use or to heat rooms.
  • Photovoltaic panels. Formed by cells that convert light into electricity and then transmit it through wiring to a cell or photovoltaic cell, which receives the load generated and stores it, to supply electricity to its various local users.

Solar energy

Solar panel - satellite
Solar energy is key in maintaining structures and machinery in space.

Along with wind and geothermal energy, solar energy has been imposed at the beginning of the 21st century as a hope for humanity, since the demand for energy is incessant in the eternal world and the traditional ways of obtaining it are increasingly expensive in financial and ecological terms. The burning of fossil fuels, for example, is assumed to be largely responsible for the climate changes suffered by the world in recent times, due to the high concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Thus, the installation of solar panels in homes, vehicles and even the manufacture of solar plants in desert locations seems to be the future of obtaining electricity, as long as it is possible to maximize the performance of the solar panels that we know and use today. Likewise, solar energy seems to be key in the maintenance of structures and machinery in space, for a humanity increasingly interested in the colonization of other planets and in space exploration. It is undoubtedly a technology full of the future.

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