Since the beginning of time, the sun has been used to provide energy for the earth helping to warm the environment and the oceans, helping the plants to grow and keeping steady the conditions that life need to thrive.
Over the last hundred years or so, man has been developing new and ingenious ways of channelling that energy through solar panels to change sunlight into electricity and using it to power millions of homes. The ultimate aim of solar panels is to eventually have them on a global scale to make a real difference to the planet and humanity. The use of the sun being used as an energy source can be charted right back the ancient Greek times in the Third Century, whilst the first solar panel was actually created in 1767 by a Swiss scientist called Horace-Benedict de Saussure who used it for heating water and steam. This goes to show that man has been trying to find ways to use the environment in a sustainable way for centuries.
There are many options available for anyone looking at solar panels. Some companies will offer feed-in tariffs or (FITs) which allows the owner of the house to sell off energy that is produced by their solar panels back to the grid, helping offset the cost and maintenance of the installation. However, unless you have the money to fund the panels yourself it will be the company claiming money back. There are also subsidised and full payment options available.
The lifetime of the panels is reasonably short, however, the benefits of such panels will go on for a lot longer, for example with the subsidised option, the consumer gets the panel for twenty years but reaps the benefits of solar energy for approximately forty years. All other panels have a lifetime of forty years but are offered a standard warranty of twenty years, with most warranties guaranteeing that the performance of the panels would not drop below eighty percent by the end of their warranty period and in fact, some still perform at that level at the end of their lifespan.
The materials used in solar panels has changed over time since they first started being developed. All light is converted into electricity using the photovoltaic effect. When the first solar cells were created in 1880 they were revolutionary in their time although only one percent effective using gold-coated selenium. However, even with the advances in science from Albert Einstein with the dominant benchmark in solar power development in 1905, it was not until the 1950s when actual improvements were made in the advancement of solar panels. This was due to silicone replacing the gold-coated selenium this achieved a much boosted four percent efficiency and therefore introduced silicone as a key material in solar energy production.
Silica is sourced and refined to reach metallurgical grade. This is obtained by placing the silica in an electric arc furnace, using carbon to release oxygen culminating a more consistent silica makeup. This is then exposed to hydrochloric acid and copper to produce trichlorosilane gas. Hydrogen is then added to convert this gas to silane gas which in turn is heated to make molten silicone, which then crystallises. These are then melted together to create discs that are coated in titanium dioxide. The purpose of this is to make the solar panels less reflective so as not to confuse aircraft. These discs are then situated in a frame of aluminium as this makes the panels low weight allowing for simple installation, it also heightens the number of structures that can support solar panels. Each cell on the solar panel is protected by either silicon rubber or butyryl plastic. This is all then covered by glass. Therefore for only a small number of materials humanity is able to use the sun to create energy and make a difference to the planet.
Can they be dangerous if mishandled?
If not recycled properly there would be a catastrophic environmental burden that would have repercussions felt worldwide. If recycling processes were not put in place then by the year 2050 there would be sixty million tonnes of PV panels waste lying around in landfills, all these landfills contain toxic substances which would be harmful to the environment, energy and humanity. Therefore if solar panel energy is to be a true benefit to humanity it cannot be left to acculture as waste in the landfill. End of life recycling of all solar panels will not only help the environment but it will aid the growth of the solar power industry as 96 percent of the panels can be reused when producing new solar panels.