How Photovoltaic Solar Cells Cut Out The Middlemen

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Most people don't realize it, but in reality, everything on the planet is actually solar-powered – from "infernal" combustion engines to your own body.

The problem is, for most of history that energy has had to go through virtual "middlemen," with consequences that have been none too healthy for society or the environment. This is where photovoltaic solar energy has the potential to solve a great many problems – if we aren't too selfish and short-sighted.

Photovoltaic energy is nothing new – in fact, it's been around on Earth for a few billion years. The original photovoltaic solar cells are actually plant cells. As you may remember from your high school biology, plants have the ability to use sunlight directly, which in turn allows them to convert water and carbon dioxide into food with oxygen as by-product.

When ancient plants died millions of years ago and eventually went into the ground, the food energy from the sun that was stored in their cells went with them. Under tremendous geologic pressure over eons, this bio-matter was transformed into forms of carbon we now know as petroleum and coal. When these are burned, it releases the energy that was stored in those molecules millions of years ago. (So, arguably, coal and oil are renewable energy sources – the problem is that the renewal process takes several hundred million years.)

Photovoltaic solar cells that are manufactured today aren't exactly like the plant cells (known as chloroplasts) that are responsible for photosynthesis. However, there are several parallels. The photovoltaic solar energy process uses some type of colorant in order to absorb sunlight, which functions in much the same way as chlorophyll.

Once light particles (known as photons) are captured by the electrons in photovoltaic solar cells, their relatively low energy is boosted and passed along a wire which creates a circuit. This activates the electrons, turning them into usable energy that can run machinery.

All we do know for certain is that photovoltaic technology able to run our lights and appliances – and one day, even serve our transportation needs – is real, and available here and now.

In this article Jonathon Blocker writes about

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