Currently, solar panels offer the most popular (although not the first) method to invert solar radiation into electric power. The first successful attempt to advantageously use solar radiation was invention of a solar collector, in which electric power generation is carried out using water heated to the boiling temperature by sunlight.

Solar panels represent the next stage in the development of technologies allowing to convert radiation without intermediary devices, offering thereby a greater efficiency. In this case, the transformation process is associated with far lesser energy losses.

Structure and Materials

The main components of solar panels are photovoltaic (solar) cells, i.e. semiconductors actually converting solar energy into electricity. A semiconductor photovoltaic cell comprises two layers of different conductivity (its atoms either contain electrons in excess – the n-layer, or lack electrons – the p-layer). The sunbeams falling on the surface of a photovoltaic cell virtually force the excess electrons out from the n-layer, with those further filling the free spaces in the p-layer. Further, electrons emerge from the p-layer, pass through the battery and return to the n-layer. The circle closes and the process is reiterated.

The first available material with a photoelectric effect was selenium, but on account of its efficiency factor below 1% it could not be effectively used for conversion of solar energy. Photovoltaic cells of selenium became history having been replaced by the invention of Boston-Bell Telephone innovative telecommunications company – the silicon-based photovoltaic cell.

The invention made mass production of solar cells possible. However, this is not the end yet. Silicon purification is an expensive process, therefore alternatives from among more affordable materials are being sought (such as compounds of copper, gallium, cadmium).

To achieve sufficient capacity for power supply to electric devices, photovoltaic cells are interconnected in series thus forming a solar panel. At that, it is always possible to replace a failed photovoltaic cell without compromising panel design. The photovoltaic system is enclosed with tempered glass for protection against external hazards.

Solar panel use range

However, solar panels are not exclusively cumbersome static systems used to supply electric power to industrial enterprises. Such a system can be easily adapted for economic and household use by selecting panels of a smaller size.

The most impressive of the latest developments is an unmanned aircraft running exclusively on solar energy. One can also find watches, mobile phones and lamps with solar panels on offer for sale. In Puerto Rico, there are trash cans immediately recycling waste by using solar energy, while lamp-posts equipped with LED and solar panels are installed in many progressive cities around the world already causing no one's surprise.