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Solar Energy (Photovoltaics)
Port of San Diego's Green Port Program by Port of San Diego on Flickr

Solar Energy and Photo-voltaic's


Solar energy is obtained from sunlight. It has been used by humans for things such as heating, cooking food , drying clothes,  and removing salt from seawater. 


Solar cells, which you can see on calculators and satellites, are also called photo-voltaic cells (photo means light and voltaic means electricity). Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight directly into electricity.

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Wayne National Forest Solar Panel Construction by Wayne National Forest on Flickr

How Photovoltaic Cells Work


Photovoltaic cells are made from special materials called semiconductors, most commonly silicon. 

  • For solar cells, a thin silicon wafer is specially treated to form an electric field, positive on one side and negative on the other.
  • When light energy strikes the solar cell,electrons are knocked loose from the silicon (or other semiconductive material). 
  • If electrical conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides, forming an electrical circuit, the electrons can be captured as electricity, which can then be used to power a light or other load. 

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Solar Expansion Project Final Day by Wayne National Forest on Flickr

Uses of Solar Power

  • A number of solar cells electrically linked together and mounted in a frame is called a photo-voltaic module
  • This is what you see on rooftoops of solar powered houses, like the one at left.  
  • They also use photovoltaic modules to power the international space station.
  • Solar power can be used in a home either to supplement the electricity that the home receives from the power grid or to provide all of the electricity needs of the household.  
  • In some parts of the country, people who have excess solar energy can actually sell power to the electricity providers.  
  • The installation of solar panels has become more affordable and easier to install.

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Heliostatos SOLÚCAR by afloresm on Flickr

 Fun Facts

  • Did you know that the world's largest solar plant is in the Mojave desert ?
  • The first photo-voltaic module was built in 1954 by Bell Laboratories.
  • Albert Einstein discovered the foundation on which photo-voltaic technology is based. 
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