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The Sound of Science - 'How does solar power work?'

NIU STEAM
NIU STEAM

The Sound of Science - 'How does solar power work?'

Welcome to The Sound of Science from WNIJ and NIU STEAM. It’s a weekly series explaining important STEM concepts. Today’s hosts are Jeremy Benson and Newt Likier.

Today we have a question from Rob, who wants to know how solar power works and if it'll really help save money on his energy bill.

While solar power has seen a recent uptick in popularity and presence in pop culture, humans have been harnessing the sun's energy for a long time. But if we want to focus on the more current understanding of solar power, we should start in France in 1839. A scientist named Edmond Becquerel is credited with discovering what we call the photovoltaic effect, or the generation of electrical current from the exposure to light. This effect is the foundation for how solar panels work today,

These solar panels use what's called a P-N junction, the thinner top part of the cell is made of a special silicon material that holds electrons, the "N" region, the thicker lower part of the cell has holes that are the right size for electrons to fall through, the "P" region. In between these parts is a depletion zone that generates electrons and holes in pairs, which then split the electrons head to the "N" region and the holes go to the "P" region.

Like a common circuit, there needs to be a path that completes the loop. So, the electrons have a way to get back over to the holes. When a path exists. Direct current is generated, and we have working solar power.

Normal people like you and me have started adding solar panels to their homes to subsidize the power they get from the electric company. And yes, once they're installed and working, they do save people money on their electric bill. But at the moment, there's a pretty hefty upfront cost to buy the panels. Some companies offer leases or payment plans, but it's just like any other home upgrade or renovation. It comes with a cost.

But once they're installed, they can generate enough power for the average home's usage. We're all about clean energy. So, we encourage those who are interested to learn more and decide if they're right for you.

If there's anything you want to learn about the world, submit your questions to niusteam@niu.edu.

This has been the sound of science on WNIJ where you learn something new every day

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