Solar electricity ("photovoltaics") converts sunlight into electricity that we can use to power our lights, fans, televisions, computers, and other appliances. While traditional electricity created from fossil fuels emits harmful greenhouse gases into the environment, solar electricity is clean. It is said that enough solar energy falls on our planet every hour to meet our energy needs for an entire year. Unlike fossil fuels, solar energy is not a finite resource and will never run out.
But how exactly does it work? There are many resources that can explain the physics behind a solar cell, but a basic explanation goes something like this. When the sun shines on a solar cell, photons in the sunlight hit the solar cell and knock electrons loose from the silicon atoms in the cell. These electrons run around trying to recombine with other atoms in the cell. By 'doping' the cell with other materials like Boron and Phosphorous that have an uneven number of electrons and holes, the electrons cannot simply jump back into their atoms, but are instead lead down a metal path as they search for holes to fill, and are escorted off the solar cell onto a wire. When both the positive and negative connections from a solar panel are connected to a light, for example, a circuit is created and the electrons flow around the circuit, powering the light in the process, and then go back to their source. This flow of electrons around a circuit is electricity. Ta dah!
Millions of people around the world live without electricity. They are either living in a very remote area that is too far away from the electric grid, they cannot afford to connect to the grid and pay the monthly fees, or the grid they do have it not reliable. It's hard to imagine what life would be like without electricity, and its also hard to truly appreciate all of the opportunities we have to learn, create, explore, reflect, discover, and simply be more comfortable due to the presence of electricity.
Electricity allows us to access information, be more efficient and productive in our jobs, experience the comforts of a heated or air-conditioned building, and enjoy the latest innovations in entertainment and communication. Electricity brings with it exposure to another world of possibilities and allows us to advance together through our participation in innovation, discovery, and comfort.
Solar electricity is the perfect source for clean, reliable energy whether you are connected to the grid or not. Rather than building more fossil fuel-powered power plants or nuclear plants to meet the growing demand for electricity in the developing world, let's think one step ahead and go solar instead.