Harnessing Solar Energy using Photosynthesis and Semiconductor-based Solar Cell
For a long time, human beings have looked for ways through which they can use the energy from the sun in their daily activities. The major advantages of using solar energy is that it is readily available in many parts of the world, it is renewable and it causes minimal harm to the environment as compared to the other types of fuels. Solar energy has been used for many activities such as drying, providing heat, lighting, cooking and disinfecting among other uses. Some of the uses may not be so obvious to some and they may be taken for granted. One such use of the solar energy is photosynthesis. It would be virtually impossible to survive without the sun since green plants require the sun to make their food.
During photosynthesis, green plants absorb the energy from the sun’s radiation and convert it into food by combining water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. The chlorophyll in the green plants captures, transforms, and stores energy. During this process, light energy is transformed into chemical energy. Photosynthetic bacteria and algae also undergo the process of photosynthesis (Rajan, 2003). Solar cells, which are mostly made of silicon, convert solar energy into electricity. Solar panels are made of many solar cells and they are used during this process. When solar cells are exposed to light, they absorb photons and allow the generation of electrical currents. Photovoltaic conversion enables the sun’s rays to be converted into electricity. While photosynthesis does not require any expenses, the same cannot be said of solar cells. Solar cell technology is expensive though the main material used in making the solar cells in readily available.
The similarity between the plant cell and the solar cell is that they both absorb energy from the sun. The absorbed energy is then transferred or transformed into a useful form. The plants are able to make food and the solar cells convert the sun’s radiation into electricity. The differences between the two cells are the type of energy produced after conversion. Plant cells make chemical energy while solar cells make electrical energy. Whereas photosynthesis is a free process, making solar cells is an expensive process. Plant cells are naturally occurring while solar cells are manufactured. Photosynthesis is rigid in that it can only be used directly by the plants while solar panels are flexible because they can be utilized for many domestic and commercial activities.
Thermodynamics can be defined as the study of heat and its relation to other form of energy. The first law of thermodynamics, which is also called the law of conservation of energy, states that energy can be changed from one form to another but it cannot be created or destroyed. In the case of solar energy, it can be transformed into electrical or chemical form. Solar cells convert light energy into electrical energy thus conserving it. The heat and light from the sun are also used in different ways. The second law states that in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state.
Some or all of the energy transferred or transformed is used in different ways. If all the transferred energy is used, then it eventually becomes of little use. At first, energy is concentrated at different levels. It starts spreading out from the more concentrated areas to the ones that are less concentrated. It will only stop flowing when there is no difference in the concentration levels (Watson, 2010). During photosynthesis, the green leaves in the plant absorb the sun’s energy but they have to distribute this energy to other parts of the plant to enable it to make food. The third law states that as temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a minimum.
Rajan, S. S. (2003). Cell and molecular biology. New Delhi, India: Anmol Publications PVT. LTD
Watson, D. (2010). The second law of thermodynamics. Retrieved from http://www.ftexploring.com/energy/2nd_Law.html
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