Solar Cells

Solar cells also called photovoltaic cells, are very much like the transistors and integrated circuits (chips, ICs )that power our computers, ipods, cell phones, televisions etc.

They are semiconductors, little wafers and blocks of silicone that have been manufactured to produce electricity when struck by rays from the sun. Like all semiconductor devices, photovoltaic cells work with a semiconductor that has two different types of silicone.

One of the two types of silicone has been mixed with phosphorus (we call this side the N-type) and the other silicone is mixed with boron (we call this side the P-type). Now, an electrical field is created near the point where these two types of silicone are in contact (we call this the P-N junction).

When sunlight strikes the surface of a photovoltaic cell (or PV cell), this electrical field moves electrons stimulated by the light from the photovoltaic cell to whatever you want to power.

Different types of photovoltaic cells

There are three main types of photovoltaic cells, so determined by the type of silicon used in them. They are:

  • Monocrystalline silicone – rods extracted from melted silicone and sawed into wafers - the most efficient.
  • Polycrystalline silicone – liguid silicone poured into molds and sawed into plates – the second most efficient
  • Amorphous silicone – a silicone film deposited on glass – the least efficient but probably the cheapest!

Researchers at Ohio State University are experimenting with polymer semiconductors that absorb the sun’s energy and generate electricity. The goal: lighter, cheaper, and more-flexible cells. They have now discovered that adding tiny bits of silver to the plastic boosts the materials’ electrical current generation.

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