Solar energy is attracting more and more attention worldwide as a sustainable and clean alternative to traditional energy sources. Solar panels, key elements of the system for converting sunlight into electricity, play a key role in this process. Here are 11 important facts about solar panels that you should know:

1. Unlimited source of energy: The sun is an inexhaustible energy reserve. The sunlight that reaches the Earth every day can be used to produce electricity. Using just one small part of this energy is significant. That’s why materials are designed that better “capture” solar energy, and the design of solar panels itself is adjusted to make them more efficient.

2. A sustainable alternative: solar energy is clean and renewable, making it an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. The use of solar panels reduces the emission of harmful greenhouse gases – no carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to the preservation of natural resources.

3. However, solar energy also has an impact on the environment: some metals are used, such as cadmium, which increase efficiency, but are not environmentally acceptable, because they are heavy metals, which are always a problem to recycle. However, technology does not stop – new materials are being developed and tested that could increase the efficiency of solar panels, with less impact on the environment.

4. One of the disadvantages of solar energy is that it is an intermittent form of energy. Namely, the sun is not always there – solar panels do not produce energy during the night and when there is no sun.

5. Solar panels use the phenomenon of the photoelectric effect (some say “photovoltaic effect”) to create current flow. Photons – particles “carriers of electromagnetic” radiation can, if they hit a material, such as a metal or a semiconductor, move a electron from the last shell of an atom. That electron goes to a higher energy state, as if it “bounces” and, if we “catch” it using special materials, we can create a flow of electrons. And that’s actually a current flow.

6. For explaining the photoelectric effect, Albert Einstein received the Nobel Prize in 1921. His work was based on the work of a number of scientists before him. Edmond Becquerel, Heinrich Hertz, Philipp Lenard and Max Planck are just some of them.

7. Many solar panels are based on silicon, which is a semiconductor. In a solar cell, crystalline silicon is sandwiched between conductive layers. A silicon solar cell uses two different layers of silicon: n-type silicon, which has extra electrons, and p-type silicon, which has extra spaces for electrons. Thus in a solar cell electrons can wander through the pn junction leaving a positive charge on one side and creating a negative charge on the other side. It actually creates a circuit.

Not all solar panels and solar cells are based on silicon. Today, many other materials are being developed and tested, such as perovskite, a material containing lead or tin.

8. Economic return on investment: investing in solar panels can result in long-term savings on electricity bills. By reducing dependence on grid power and potentially selling excess energy produced, solar panels can help reduce costs.

9. Multiple applications: solar panels can be used for various purposes. From powering households and commercial buildings to charging electric vehicles, solar energy offers a wide range of possibilities. Solar energy can also be used to produce green hydrogen, which is a way of storing energy during those days when there is not enough solar energy.

10. The idea of ​​making solar panels in some very sunny area, like the Sahara, sounds good. However, this is not easily achievable. Namely, it is necessary to carry out the transfer of this energy to consumers (who are not in the Sahara) or to build an energy storage facility, which can be expensive. This would be possible if there was a wireless transmission of that much power, but we don’t have that.

11. Technological progress: progress in solar panel technology enables greater efficiency and smaller panel size. New materials and designs open the door to innovation and the expansion of their application. Also, the panels can be adapted to specific regional conditions, such as climate, geographical location and solar intensity.



Jelena Kalinić, MA in comparative literature and graduate biologist, science journalist and science communicator, has a WHO infodemic manager certificate and Health metrics Study design & Evidence based medicine training. Winner of the 2020 EurekaAlert (AAAS) Fellowship for Science Journalists. Short-runner, second place in the selection for European Science journalist of the year for 2022.