Solar panels are devices used for harnessing the vast reservoir of power embedded in sunlight, a non-conventional energy source.
On a bright day, it is calculated that the sun emits about one kilowatt of energy to a square meter of the Earth’s surface. Only a fraction of this vast energy has been harnessed for practical use.
Solar-power generation has not been cost-effective compared to conventional energy sources. But of late, governmental and non-governmental agencies, companies, corporations, and educational institutions have been promoting research and development for finding ways to make solar power feasible.
Solar panels are photovoltaic (PV) arrays. Photo refers to light and voltaic to electricity. These arrays are available in forms such as solar hot water panels for providing domestic hot water and solar photovoltaic panels for generating electricity.
Larger solar arrays can generate power to be supplied to isolated areas where normal electricity supply is unfeasible. There has been a race for developing experimental solar-powered cars, yachts, and other vehicles. Solar panels should have as much surface area as possible pointing towards the sun.
Solar power is harnessed widely in space missions launched within the solar system. Outside of the solar system, the energy availability weakens. Solar cells in the PV panels convert light into electricity by absorbing the energy of the sun. Crystalline silicon and gallium arsenide are the best choices of materials for solar cells.
Silicon crystals in the form of standard ingots are less expensive compared to gallium arsenide. Ploycrystalline silicon gives only lower conversion efficiency, but has the added attraction of a lower cost.
The costs of PV panels range from $1 to $2 per watt, with an installed cost from $3 to $7 per watt. Solar panels would prove to be the ultimate device for capturing omnipresent power from the sun.