This week I’ll be stepping into the shoes of a tech blogger to review a product that is very close to my heart. I’ve been following the development of thin-film solar cells since they were first introduced to the world back in 2000. The technology has come a long way since then and we’re now on the cusp of a new era of energy independence. As the world starts to move towards more sustainable energy sources, it’s exciting to see the future unfold before our very eyes.
The Basics Of A Solar Cell
A solar cell is a photovoltaic device that converts sunlight directly into electrical power. It was first devised in the 1800s and has been refined ever since. In essence, all solar cells work on the same basic principles – light and solar panels.
The beauty of solar cells is that they are extremely easy to make. There is no need for specialized equipment, large industrial plants or high-tech processes. You can literally put one together in under an hour with just a few common household items. Here are the essentials you will need to get started:
- A solar panel (with a voltage of 12V or greater)
- A step-down regulator (such as this 12V to 5V converter)
- A 5V microcontroller (such as this one)
- Some wire (to connect all the pieces)
- An LCD display (for visualization purposes)
- A 9V battery (or another 12V battery)
- An adaptor to connect the panel to the battery (9V to 12V)
Putting It All Together – The DIY TFSOC Kit
With the exception of the battery and the load, all of the above items can be found at a local store or online retailer. Having them all in-stock will save you from going out and getting them one-by-one as you go. The following video shows you exactly how to put together a completely DIY TFSOC (thin-film solar cell) kit in under an hour:
To start, you will want to connect the positive terminal of your battery to the right side of the 12V rail. Make sure that the negative terminal is connected to the left side of the 12V rail as well. Next, simply connect the positive terminal of the panel to the positive terminal of the battery and the negative terminal of the panel to the negative terminal of the battery. Do this via a wire and ensure that both ends are connected firmly so that there is no wiggle when connected. Finally, you will want to connect the step-down regulator to the 5V pin on the microcontroller.
As you can see above, this will make your battery completely functional as a source of power for all electronic devices. By connecting the LCD screen to the 5V pin of the microcontroller, you will be able to monitor the output of the cell in real-time. If you’re just getting started, it’s recommended that you connect the LCD screen to a virtual ground so that you don’t end up with any static shocks when handling the device. You can also purchase a simple oscilloscope and attach it to the 5V pin of the microcontroller. This will allow you to monitor the waveform of the generated electricity and ensure that there are no anomalies (such as spikes or jumps in voltage) that could disrupt the flow of electricity through the circuit.
The Future Of Energy
The key takeaway from this mini-review is that solar cells have been proven time and time again to be the answer to the world’s energy needs. In fact, back in 2010, the global market for solar power devices was valued at over $16 billion. That’s a lot of green energy!
Even better is that not only do solar cells produce zero emissions, they also generate more energy than they consume. So not only are they good for the environment, they can also help the planet become more energy independent. How’s that for a win-win situation?
If you’ve been following along so far, I hope this has answered all of your questions about solar cells and given you a good idea of what they are and how they work. This week I reviewed a product that is similar to a solar cell and I was able to put one together in less than an hour. With a little bit of DIY know-how, anyone can create their own functional and environmentally-friendly power source. So the next time someone asks you, “can I borrow some power for my electronics?” you can reply, “sure, why not?”