Welcome to Chemistry Connections, my name is Sarah and I'm Akhansha and we are your hosts for episode #1 called “Light Up Our World”. Today we will be discussing the chemistry behind solar panels.
Solar panels are an alternative, renewable energy source that have gained popularity in recent years. In this episode, we will be explaining how solar panels receive light and produce electricity. But why are solar panels important? Electricity runs the modern world, being necessary for almost all of our daily activities. However, in this day and age, the source of electricity is just as important as electricity itself. *cough* Climate change *cough*. Solar panels provide an alternative pathway to gain energy without harming our world like other sources of electricity.
So how do solar panels convert light into electricity? Solar panels are made of two types of semiconductors: P-type and N-type. Before we elaborate, we’d like to clarify what a semiconductor is. A semiconductor is a substance that has electrical conductivity between that of a conductor and an insulator. On the periodic table, elements that are semiconductors are silicon, germanium, tin, selenium, and tellurium.
The P-type layer is placed next to the N-type layer. In the P-type layer, atoms with one less electron in the outer shell compared to silicon, like boron and gallium, are added. This absence of an electron is referred to as a “hole” that is positively charged. In the N-type layer, atoms, like phosphorus, that have one more electron in the outer shell than silicon, are added. This creates an excess of electrons in the N-type layers since one electron is free to roam after phosphorus bonds with neighboring silicon atoms.
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