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Solar Powering the Production of Clean Energy

Maggie Kearns Francis

August 13, 2018


Solar panels and their ability to produce electricity can seem like a very complex process.


To put things simply, solar panels are made up of small units called photovoltaic cells. These cells have the ability to convert sunlight to electricity. This conversion happens when particles of light, known as photons, knock electrons from their atoms, generating electricity. Metal conductive plates in the panels collect the electricity and transfer it to wires.


While solar panel technology has developed over the last 60 years, the photovoltaic effect was first observed in 1839. The first solar cell was then created in 1883 but with only a 1-2% energy conversion rate. Until the 1950s, scientists had not figured out a way to efficiently (in terms of energy and cost) produce solar cells and panels.


The use of solar power saw more widespread acceptance and interest in the late 1950s when the U.S. government used it to power the space exploration mission equipment. Research performed in the 1970s further drove down the price and raised the quality of solar panels. This technology has continued to develop at a rapid rate, and today there are solar cells weighing less than a single sheet of paper with the impressive conversion efficiencies of 20%.


There are an abundance of benefits to using solar panels; both for personal energy consumption and public use. One great benefit is cost savings. Most people view solar panels as a pricey investment, but this should be approached with a long-term view. While the initial purchase and installation of solar panels can be expensive, cost savings over time make up for it.


Solar panels’ longevity is another key benefit. Most solar panels on the market today come with a 20-25 year warranty. In addition to this, the industry standards guarantee that even after 25 years the panels will still perform at 80% efficiency and continue to produce energy even 40 years down the road. Talk about a long-term investment!


When many people think of solar power, they automatically think of solar powers on homes and buildings. However, other industries are also reaping the benefits of solar.


The transportation industry has seen an increase in the use and application of solar panels to power everything from traffic cameras and signals to street lights. The advantages of these fixtures are their longevity and self-sufficiency; they require very little maintenance and up-keep costs. Additionally, fixtures used by construction and emergency staff to control traffic flow are made portable when powered by solar panels.


In Jinan, China, Shandong Pavenergy, has created a whole new application for solar panels in the transportation industry – paving roadways with them!


The allures of this application are quite obvious. Using roadways rather than fields and deserts for laying solar panels conserves land, which is especially important in densely-populated areas. This, coupled with the fact that because the solar power paved roads run through major cities, the energy could be used right where it is being produced, lessening transportation and storage burdens.


These solar panel paved roadways would completely change the driving experience. Electric heated strips can be installed with the panels to melt snow and ice; eliminating the danger to drivers and the cost of snow removal. Additionally, LEDs embedded in the surface of the panels can illuminate the roadway, serve as signage, and alert drivers of traffic situations ahead.


The technology is relatively new and still being developed and improved, but what an exciting prospect for future clean energy production and transportation!


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