Solar power technology is not a recent advent; in fact, it dates back to the mid 1800s to the industrial revolution where solar energy plants were developed to heat water that created steam to drive machinery.
In 1839 Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect which explains how electricity can be generated from sunlight. He claimed that "shining light on an electrode submerged in a conductive solution would create an electric current." However, even after much research and development subsequent to the discovery, photovoltaic power continued to be very inefficient and solar cells were used mainly for the purposes of measuring light.
Over 100 years later, in 1941, Russell Ohl invented the solar cell, shortly after the invention of the transistor.
Light (photons) striking certain compounds, in particular metals, causes the surface of the material to emit electrons. Light striking other compounds causes the material to accept electrons. It is the combination of these two compounds that can be made use of to cause electrons to flow through a conductor, and thereby create electricity. This phenomenon is called the photo-electric effect. Photovoltaic means sunlight converted into a flow of electrons (electricity).
Solar power is a rapidly developing energy source in Australia and around the world. The potential for using the sun to directly supply our power needs is huge,
Solar panels can generate electricity without any waste or pollution, or dependence on the Earths natural resources once they are constructed. Solar panels have no moving parts so they are very reliable and have a long life span. Solar panels are relatively easy to install and are very low maintenance.
A useful characteristic of solar photovoltaic power generation is that it can be installed on any scale as opposed to conventional forms of power generation which require large scale plant and maintenance. Solar panels can be installed to generate power where it is needed which removes the need to transport and distribute power over long distances to remote areas.