A career change is often a frightening thing to contemplate, maybe especially so when you’re in your 50s. But for Jeff Miller of Columbus, Ohio, age 54 was the perfect time to hop into solar. In his words, he had finally found his people.#solarenergy #solarpower #solarpanels #renewableenergy #cleanenergy #gogreen
, an educational training outfit. He signed up for a free online introduction to renewables course and immediately was hooked.
“I liked it a lot, and I felt like, this just fits everything I’d like to do,” Miller said。 He went all-in on a future in solar and signed up for the residential and commercial PV system program track that included a hands-on lab course on the SEI campus in Colorado。
斗地主达人“You picked three systems you wanted to put together and take apart。 I picked a pole mount, a ground mount and a roof mount,” Miller said。 “The people were great, instructors were great, students were great, even the locals。 I was convinced that this was definitely it。 We all had a similar shared idea of renewables and doing our part。 I told my wife that I found my kind of people。 It was magic。”
Miller went right on ahead and got NABCEP certified, took OSHA training and set out looking for a solar job in spring 2018. There weren’t any job postings, but Miller sent out an updated resume to two local solar installation companies and was working on a third when () replied.
Jeff on a Ecohouse Solar project.
“He called us at a good time and let us know he had already been through a number of solar courses with Solar Energy International and had a mechanical engineering degree,” said Ecohouse founder and president Kevin Eigel。 “He was eager to start working in the solar industry and wanted to make a career change。 He has a great attitude, and he is gradually learning the details related to residential solar。”
Miller was officially hired as a salesperson, and his life experiences have helped him secure contracts in the few months he’s been on the job.
“I’ve been selling bowling balls for 16 years. It’s not something people need. I could sell them on the most expensive ball or I could see what they want,” he said. “I feel comfortable in the sales realm. My role is to provide the customer with all the relevant information they need to make the right decision.”
Eigel said he’s pleased with Ecohouse’s decision to hire Miller. The company’s other salespeople had some solar knowledge before starting, but Miller had a leg-up with his certificates. And his attitude and work ethic fit in well at Ecohouse.
“It is important for me to hire people whose values are aligned with mine, and I look for that when I am looking for people to work with us,” Eigel said。
Miller said it’s never too late to find your passion and go after it.
“I had a career change at age 54. Don’t be scared, seriously,” he said. “Hopefully this story will inspire someone to get in the PV industry. If it just inspires one person, then it was quite worth the time.”
This story was featured exclusively in our 2019 Top Solar Contractors issue.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Pickerel is editor in chief of Solar Power World.
A look at how one of the most important inventions in human history actually works.
Solar energy is crucial to many futures. On the micro level, there’s a booming solar industry in America and across the globe. Since Congress passed a tax credit in 2006, the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) says that the industry …
… has been averaging an annual growth rate of 50 percent in the last decade. In most fields, that would be macro news. But solar energy has a mission beyond making money—it’s supposed to save the planet.
There’s no plan to prevent man-made global warming from permanently warping the Earth’s climate without solar panels and the energy they can convert. “The role of renewable energy solutions in mitigating climate change is proven,” the United Nations Development Program. Some in the industry solar will grow 6,500 percent as an industry by 2050 in order to mitigate that need.
But for all their importance, solar panels still feel mysterious。 Stiff and slightly menacing black rectangles, they have neither the look or the feel of a savior。 Majestic waterfalls and dams look heroic, but solar panels do not。 So…how do they work anyway?
A Brief History
斗地主达人Work in solar energy , when a young French physicist named Edmond Becquerel discovered what is now known as the photovoltaic effect。 Becquerel was working in the family business—his father, Antoine Becquerel, was a well-known French scientist who was increasingly interested in electricity。 Edmond was interested in how light functioned, and when he was just 19 their two interests met—he discovered that electricity could be produced through sunlight。
The years went on and the technology made small but steady steps. During the 1940s, scientists like experimented with using sodium sulphates to store energy from the sun to create the . When investigating semiconductors, the engineer examined a cracked silicon sample and noticed that it was conducting electricity despite the crack.
But the biggest leap came on April 25, 1954, when chemist Calvin Fuller, physicist Gerald Pearson, and engineer Daryl Chapin revealed that they had built the first practical silicon solar cell.
Like Ochs, the trio worked for Bell Labs and had taken on the challenge of creating that balance before. Chapin had been trying to create power sources for remote telephones in deserts, were regular batteries would dry up. Pearson and Fuller were working on controlling the properties of semiconductors, which would later be used to power computers. Aware of each others work, the three decided to collaborate.
Calvin S. Fuller, seen here diffusing boron into silicon.
A year after the first working solar cell was created, Bell Labs was finding practical uses for the technology. Here, a cable repairman in Georgia is setting up panels for the first-ever solar-powered phone call on October 4, 1955.
These earliest solar cells were “basically hand-assembled devices,” says , senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
How Do Solar Panels Work?
To understand requires shrinking down to the atomic level。 Silicon has an atomic number of 14, which means that it has 14 protons in its center and 14 electrons circling that center。 Using the classic imagery of atomic circles, there are three circles moving around the center。 The innermost circle is full with two electrons, and the middle circle is full with eight。 However, the outermost circle, which holds four electrons, is half-full。 That means it will always look to fill itself up with help from nearby atoms。 When they connect, they form what is called a crystalline structure。
With all those electrons reaching out and connecting to each other, there isn’t much room for an electric current to move. That’s why the silicon found in solar panels is impure, mixed in with another element, like phosphorous. The outermost circle of phosphorous has five electrons. That fifth electron becomes what is known as a “free carrier,” able to carry an electrical current without much prodding. Scientists boost the number of free carriers by adding impurities in a process called doping. The result is what’s known as N-type silicon.
N-type silicon is what’s on the surface of a solar panel. Below that resides its mirror opposite—P-type silicon. Whereas N-type silicon has one extra electron, P-type uses impurities from elements like gallium or boron, that have one less electron. That creates another imbalance, and when sunlight hits the P-type, the electrons starts to move to fill the voids in each other. A balancing act that repeats itself over and over again, generating electricity.
What Makes Up a Solar Panel?
Solar cells are made out of silicon wafers. These are made out of the element silicon, a hard and brittle crystalline solid that is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen. If you’re at the beach and see shiny black specks in the sand, that’s silicon. As Ochs discovered, it naturally converts sunlight into electricity.
Like other crystals, silicon can be grown. Scientists, like the ones at Bell Labs, grow silicon in a tube as a single, uniform crystal, unrolling the tube, and cutting the resulting sheet up into what are known as wafers.
“Visualize a round stick,” says Vikram Aggarwal, the founder and CEO of, a comparison-shopping marketplace for solar panels. That stick is cut like a “pepperoni, a roll of salami cut thin for sandwiches—they shave them very thinly,” he says. That’s where it has historically been very difficult—either too thick, a waste, or too thin, making them not precise and prone to cracking.”
The backup of Vanguard 1, the first ever satellite to use solar power. The backup rests in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
SMITHSONIAN AIR & SPACE MUSEUM.
They try to make these wafers as skinny as possible, to get as much value out of their crystal as possible. This type of solar cell is made out of mono-crystalline silicon.
While the first solar cells resemble today’s cells in terms of look, there are a number of differences. Back at Bell Labs, the initial hopes was that solar cells would be good for the coming space race, Margolis says, so there was a premium on keeping weight down. The photovoltaic cells, as they came to be known, were put into a lightweight encapsulate.
And it worked. Just four years after the first working solar cell was developed, on March 17 1958, the Naval Research Laboratory built and , the world’s first solar-powered satellite.
Solar Panels Today
Making photovoltaic cells at a First Solar plant in Pittsburgh, PA.
Nowadays, photovoltaic cells are mass-produced and cut by lasers with greater accuracy than any scientist at Bell Labs could have imagined. While they’re used in space, they’ve found far more purpose and value on Earth. So instead of putting an emphasis on weight, solar manufacturers now put an emphasis on strength and durability. Goodbye lightweight encapsulate, hello glass that can withstand the weather.
One of the main focuses on any solar manufacturer is efficiency—how much of the sunlight that falls on every square meter of the solar panel can be converted into electricity。 It’s “a basic math problem” that lies at the center of all solar production, says Aggarwal。 Here, efficiency means how much of the sunlight can be properly converted through P and N-type silicon。
Workers in California installing solar panels on a roof. Efficiency is crucial for getting as much power as possible from them.
JOE SOHM/VISIONS OF AMERICA/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUPGETTY IMAGES
“Lets say you have 100 square feet available on your roof,” he says in a hypothetical。 “In this limited space, if panels are 10 percent efficient, its less than 20 percent。 Efficiency means how many electrons they can produce per square inch of silicon wafers。 The more efficient they are, the more economics they can deliver。”
Around a decade ago, Margolis says, solar efficiency was hovering around 13 percent. In 2019, solar efficiency has risen to 20 percent. There’s a clear upward trend, but one that says Margolis has a limit with silicon.
Due to the nature of silicon as an element, solar panels have of 29 percent. So…where do we go from here?
The Future of Solar
Prof. Charles Chee Surya, of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, posing with a perovskite-silicon tandem solar cell that has some of the world’s highest efficiency ratings.
K. Y. CHENG/SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST VIA GETTY IMAGESGETTY IMAGES
斗地主达人Some scientists are working on using new materials. There’s a mineral known as perovskite that Aggarwal describes as “very exciting.” First discovered in the Ural Mountains in western Russia, perovskite has —from 10 percent efficiency in 2012 to 20 percent in 2014. It can be made artificially with common industrial metals, making it easier to find, and it uses a simpler process than the balancing dance of P and N type silicon to conduct electricity.
But both Aggarwal and Margolis caution that it the technology is still in its earliest phases。 “Efficiency in the lab has gone up rapidly, but there’s a difference between the lab and the real world,” Margolis says。 While perovskite has shown great progress in clean environments, it has shown rapid declines when introduced to elements like water, which it could encounter in daily use。
Rather than new materials, Margolis and his team are working on a concept he calls “solar plus.” As solar energy use increases, there’s a potential to improve how “solar interacts with other buildings as a whole,” he says.
So imagine it’s a brutally hot summer in the city. You go to an office for work, and then back home at night. It’s hot and humid, so you turn on the air conditioner—and so does every other person in the city. The electrical grid becomes strained.
But Margolis imagines it could be possibly to store and utilize solar energy to lessen the strain. “Two hours before you come home, when the sun is still running, the AC could pre-run and get your house cool beforehand.” The same applies during a cold winter, risking frozen pipes. “You can super heat your water during the heat day, and still use that hot water to clean your dishes or take a shower the next morning…we’re just at the beginning of thinking of how to integrate solar into our system.”
斗地主达人Despite facing solar domination like competition from natural gas and a political climate favors fossil fuels, Margolis is optimistic.
“We’re at this point where the utilities and the engineers are understanding that solar is getting big enough that we have to deal with it. They’re fun challenges.”
A new device created by researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia can purify water through solar power。 While there have been previous attempts to merge solar power and clean water,…
The scientists say they have developed a new three-stage system that radically increases efficiency。
The need to combine water purification through clean means is a growing one, giving the rise in man-made climate change. Water scarcity is increasing throughout a variety of places on the planet, from to . “The water-energy nexus is one of the main issues threatening sustainable global development,” says Wenbin Wang, a Ph.D. student at the University’s , in a .
To combat the problem, the KAUST team looked at solar panels holistically. Silicon solar panels take in around 20 percent of the light they absorb, converting them into electricity. While that number is increasing, scientists predict that no photovoltaic (PV) panel will be able to absorb more than around 27 percent of the light. That leaves a significant amount of light being reflected, which generates heat.
The team, led by Professor Peng Wang of the Reuse Center, looked to put that heat to work.
“The PV panel generates a lot of heat, and the heat is considered a headache in PV,” Wang . “The uniqueness of the device lies in its smart and effective use of the waste heat of the PV as a resource, which leads to its high efficiency in both electricity and fresh water production.”
To capture the heat, the team built out a stack of water channels, separated by porous hydrophobic membranes and heat conduction layers。 These layers were attached to the bottom of a commercial PV panel。 Heat from the panel would vaporize seawater in the top channel, cross through the porous membrane, and then finally condense as fresh water in the third channel。
The team also put the vapor of the seawater to use. A thermal conduction layer to the next seawater channel would collect its heat, allowing the machine to recycle that energy and create even more fresh water.
In tests, the team was able to generate up to 1。64 liters of water per square meter of solar panel surface every hour。
“In a sense, it utilizes solar energy to a much fuller capacity,” Wang tells Cosmos.
斗地主达人The next step for the team is to try and expand its project to the extent that it would be viable for agriculture. Many innovations in agriculture, like , attempt to save water. Being able to use saltwater for farms could radically change how water is consumed around the world. In the U.S. alone, farming represents of the country’s consumptive water use.
“Raising sheep in the field of PV farms is feasible because grass grows well using the fresh water from solar-panel washing,” Wenbin says in the press statement. “A PV farm with sheep grazing while seawater is desalinated using our device could be ideal in arid regions near the coast.”
In Europe’s palpable drive towards a low carbon future, solar power is going to play a significant role and the contribution of residential solar within that sphere would in itself be significant. Across the continent, governments offer incentives for homeown… #solarenergyeurope
Solar Energy Industries Association Ranks Amazon #1 in the U.S. for Amount of Corporate On-site Solar Installed in 2018
SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced the early completion of its commitment to host 50 solar systems on its fulfillment and sortation center rooftops globally by 2020.