Up until a few years ago the average man in the street gave little thought to the implications of creating energy from fossil fuels. Now even a teenager (who may well otherwise be distracted by hedonistic pursuits) will tell you that burning coal or oil for electricity is highly toxic to the environment.

What the average person may not know is how inefficient using fossil fuels actually is, from the very start to the end point where we turn on our light bulb, creating electricity is mind boggling in its use of energy.

Consider that the coal (or oil) must first be mined by heavy petrol or diesel machinery then transported (again using petrol or diesel transportation) to the power production plant where it is burned to heat water into steam which in turn powers huge turbines that generate electricity.

From the moment electricity leaves the power plant it gradually diminishes until it reaches its final destination, your home, office or factory. The efficiency rate is around 5% which is phenomenally bad.


The very first solar cells had an efficiency rate of just .5% which is to say of 100% sun that landed on a solar panel only .5% was converted to electricity.

As you will see that rate is now much higher and considering that the fuel to make electricity is not mined the efficiency could be considered outstanding.

For solar panels to create electricity they need fuel just like power-plants need coal. The fuel or energy comes from the sun and is called "photons".

These can be thought of as "packets of sunlight" that carry a phenomenal amount of energy to earth at a prodigious rate.

The Solar Panels of today make use of this abundant energy by using silicon crystals with small amounts of impurity added. This process of adding minute amounts of different elements into an otherwise pure crystal is called "doping".

By having two thin layers of doped material bonded against one another, an electric current can be induced when exposed to light.

Energy Content of Sunlight

Sunlight has an energy content of 1 kW (1,000 watts) per square meter. The typical Solar Panel today achieves between 10% and 15% conversion.

The theoretical maximum efficiency of a silicon cell is about 21%. Using a more costly technology 31% conversion has been achieved.


What can we expect from solar panels in the future? Grid parity is less than 5 or 10 years away. But in some countries it has already been reached.

Grid parity is when the cost to produce solar power is the same as for creating fossil fuel power. Most people would argue that the cost of producing fossil fuel is too much for our planet in terms of carbon emissions and who can argue with that?

Currently Solar panels can convert solar energy of a rate of 18 – 20% but there are commercial solar panels available with an efficiency of over 40%.

Hopefully we will see these available on the domestic market some day soon.

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DIY Solar Power for Homes Online Guide

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