What is Solar Cell Energy?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Scientists are continually searching for different forms of renewable energy. Solar cell energy is one such form of power. This type of energy relies on special solar powered devices to convert sunlight into electricity.

Solar panels, made up of solar cells, are pointed at the sun to absorb photovoltaic energy.
Solar panels, made up of solar cells, are pointed at the sun to absorb photovoltaic energy.

Solar cell energy is produced through the photovoltaic effect, a physical process during which solar cells convert sunlight into power. Electromagnetic radiation from the sunlight generates an electric current that powers these solar cells, or photovoltaic cells or modules, creating renewable energy.

The cost of solar cells are somewhat offset by energy savings and longevity of the cells.
The cost of solar cells are somewhat offset by energy savings and longevity of the cells.

The sun's energy is made up of photons. These photons are like small containers of power, and hold various levels of energy. The level of each photon's power depends upon its individual wavelength of light. When these photons hit a solar cell created to harness their power, they can be absorbed, causing the photon's energy to be absorbed by an electron in the cell. The cell can then generate an electrical current with the power from the photon.

Though photovoltaic cells were once used in space projects alone, they are now available in many areas of the earth. They are made of semiconductors, which often contain a silicon base. This allows the cells to absorb and release the energy transmitted from the light source.

A very small device, such as a calculator, can be powered by solar energy. Solar cell energy can also be used on an enormous scale, such as through the use of solar panels or modules that can power entire buildings. Satellites run on solar cells, as do some entire electrical systems. Emergency road signs, buoys, call boxes, parking lot lights and many other items used for the general public on a daily basis are powered by solar cell energy.

During a sunny day, the sun generates about 1,000 watts of solar energy per square meter (.000621371192 mile). In theory, this is enough energy to power the planet. In order to do so, many scientists and economists agree that the cost of solar cells per watt will need to be decreased, while their efficiency will need to be increased.

Many solar energy companies are presently focused on the development of high-efficiency solar cells. These cells are able to produce more electricity per watt. High-efficiency cells are popular because they are considered cost efficient and a cheaper way of producing solar cell energy. Though solar energy cells can be expensive, they usually have a lifespan of at least 20 years. Costs for solar power energy devices are figured on a per watt average.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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Discussion Comments


The solar cells cost has been down almost half since last year in China, even in this case. Due to the slow market demands, the suppliers are losing money every day. More than 90 percent of solar cells made in China are exported to Europe and other countries.


@Mammmood - All I can say is buyer beware. The promise of solar energy is real. Some of the products don’t always live up to the hype, and I think that’s the reason some companies have gone bust.

Solar power is not the holy grail that people say that it is. Simply put, it is one of the many energy sources that we will have to use as part of a plan to transition out of fossil fuels into a renewable energy economy.

This transition will take decades and it will have to happen incrementally. But don’t get carried away with the hype.


@nony - Solar energy cost is coming down. There are a lot more players in the field than there were twenty years ago. Some of them are dedicated solar cell companies while others are existing energy companies with a solar division.

However, from what I’ve read the Chinese have made some of the biggest investments in solar energy thus far. They’ve also come out with solar cells that cost half has much as traditional solar cells and yet deliver more power.

So innovation is happening even as we speak. I would like us to be on the cutting edge of it, personally.


@SkyWhisperer - I don’t know who will win the solar energy wars, but I think there’s enough room for everyone. What’s neat about solar cells is that it’s a very accessible technology.

As the article says, you find it in solar powered calculators. My first involvement with it came years ago, however, when I fiddled with electronics as a hobby.

I had solar cells in my hobby kit and I was able to build simple circuits that did things like trip relays and power motors. It was really kind of cool. At that level the amount of power was miniscule, but it was enough to demonstrate the capability of solar cells.


I believe in solar energy, but the solar business is a tricky one indeed. It’s still a cutting edge technology and the demand isn’t there yet. As a consequence some high flying solar energy companies have been forced to file for bankruptcy.

In my opinion the companies that are best positioned to exploit solar technology are, believe it or not, oil companies. That’s because solar power isn’t their bread and butter.

They can make their billions in oil and do research and development into solar cells on the side. With this model they can do a gradual, phased implementation of the new technology into the marketplace.

Yes, I know the oil companies are the bogeymen to a lot of people but they are in the best position right now, in my opinion.

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