3 Leading Solar Energy Technologies
Solar technology is constantly evolving. It is clear now that for the near future, it is the the most viable method to generate clean, renewable energy.
Billions of dollars in investments go into scientific research of solar technologies. Still, almost all commercial and residential systems use one of 3 technologies: Thin-film P.V. (Photovoltaic) , Silicon P.V., and concentrating solar. The two P.V. technologies world water crisis compete against each other as a solution for residential customers, while P.V. solar panels and concentrating solar compete for large scale, commercial installations.
Photovoltaic – Silicon
The first P.V. panels built from solar cells technology used silicon to generate electricity. When light from the sun hits a silicon atom inside the cell, an electron is emitted (photoelectric effect) . When enough sunlight hits enough silicon atoms, an electric current is generated. Today, most installed solar panels use Silicon to generate electricity.
The problem with Silicon is that it is expansive. It is the same Silicon used in modern computer CPUs. Additionally, manufacturing processes are highly complicated and expansive. Silicon is not very effective in converting sunlight to electricity – only about 15% of sunlight is converted.
Photovoltaic – Thin film
As P.V. solar panels gained popularity, it was clear that using Silicon as the substrate might limit widespread adoption of solar technology, due to the high costs of Silicon and the panels’ production. The solution – thin film cells.
Thin film cells operate the same way as their silicon counterparts(the photoelectric effect), but their manufacturing process is cheaper, and the materials used in the process(glass, stainless still, glass) are much cheaper than Silicon.
The tradeoff for the price advantages over Silicon based P.V.is efficiency – only about 10%.
The most intriguing, and some argue, the most viable technology in use today is concentrating solar. Concentrating solar plants can generate enough energy to power tens of thousands of homes. These huge solar fields are made of thousands of mirrors, who concentrate sun light onto a fluid. That fluid heats up, generating steam, which is than converted into electricity using a steam turbine.