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Solar Energy Panels

In order to turn sun radiation into electricity, we need solar energy panels. These are used to generate electricity or heating. Solar panels are also called photovoltaic panels (PV) and are typically made of silicon. The current average rate of conversion, that is, the amount of sunlight that is transformed into electricity, is 15%. Some companies are working to increase that.

The process of solar power generation is fairly straightforward. Solar energy panels capture sunlight; solar cells turn the solar radiation into electricity and then store it in a battery bank. When the battery charges drop below a certain level, the solar panels recharge them with solar energy. Usually solar energy panels are mounted on a rooftop or a freestanding solar array rack, placed carefully so they can get as much exposure to sunlight as possible.

More recently a new generation of solar energy panels have appeared. These are called thin-film solar cells. Besides thin-film silicon, they use copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and Cadmium Telluride. Cadmium is a cheaper and more abundant type of metal, but it can be toxic to animal life and the environment, therefore its disposal management has be planned very carefully.

Other recent solar energy panels include concentrators. In these cases light in focused by lenses or mirrors onto an array of smaller cells, making the process more cost-effective. One company called Hypersolar is developing a concentrator that magnifies the power of the sun to increase the power output of solar cells through the use of photonics and a low-cost manufacturing process. The idea is to reduce the number of solar cells needed and reduce the cost per watt of solar electricity.