How solar energy works and its key benefits

Installing a photovoltaic panel is beneficial for a number of reasons: it reduces energy bills, is environmentally friendly and makes it possible to become an energy provider by supplying electricity back to the grid

Published on 16 December 2019

How photovoltaic energy works and why it's beneficial

When Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, it wasn't for his theory of relativity that made him so famous, but for another of his scientific discoveries: the photoelectric effect. History has since demonstrated that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences saw it exactly right: a particular case of this phenomenon is the photovoltaic effect, which forms the basis for the creation of photovoltaic energy.

Indeed, it's through this effect that a photovoltaic (PV) panel generates electricity thanks to the energy produced by photons, the particles that make up light. Today, the most commonly used models are silicon based, of which there are numerous variants, but now research is abuzz with new possibilities paving the way for increasingly more efficient versions.

Installing a solar PV panel offers many benefits. Firstly, it contributes to supplying the electricity needs of a household or building, whilst significantly reducing energy bills: in a short space of time the money saved can quickly recoup the initial investment made to install the panels. In addition, since it's an independent energy source, energy supplies are not lost in the case of a power cut or grid failure. Furthermore, in an increasingly flexible electricity system the consumer-producer can, if they wish, turn provider by feeding energy back into the grid to become an active rather than passive player in the energy market.

From an environmental perspective, the key benefit is the generation of electricity without greenhouse gas emissions, with subsequent benefits in terms of combating climate change: this goes for large solar PV power plants as well as for the increasing number of domestic installations. Moreover, compared to fossil fuel sources, it eliminates problems connected with the transportation of both the raw materials and the energy itself: sunlight is available everywhere, including in high-latitude areas, since high temperatures are not necessary for the photovoltaic effect to occur. Another positive benefit relates to the social aspect: solar energy enables those living in remote areas to have a supply of electricity, locations to which the electricity grids of developing countries cannot extend, thus facilitating sustainable development.

It's in this context that a clear disadvantage of solar energy becomes evident: it's inconstant and intermittent, since there's no sunlight at night or on a cloudy day. And this is where technology steps in: there are energy storage solutions available on the market that are capable of storing the excess energy produced during the hours of maximum exposure to the sun. The stored energy can then be utilised as and when the consumer needs it.

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