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10 things you may not know about solar technology

Solar power is energy captured from the sun’s rays. Seems simple enough. But, have you ever wondered how? Or about the technology that achieves it? Where did it come from and how was it discovered? Solar power has a colourful history, and its applications continue to grow rapidly across the world today.

Maybe, you have even wondered how and why we integrate the technology into our solar electric car, Lightyear One.

You've come to the right place. This is the chance to answer those questions as part of the International Day of Education.On this day the importance of education for peace and development is highlighted worldwide. We are using the opportunity to share some knowledge about (we believe) one of the most amazing green technologies on earth.

Don't worry, it's not rocket science...It's solar science.  

1. When was solar technology first discovered?

The origins of solar conversion date all the way back to 1839, when French physicist Edmond Becquerel first discovered the photovoltaic effect. However, the first solar cell was not developed until about a century later, when scientists at Bell Labs (United States) created the first practical silicon cell.

2. How does Solar technology actually work?

Two types of energy can be generated from the sun: heat and electricity. We, unsurprisingly, are interested in the latter, and to produce electricity from the sun's rays we use solar cells.

Solar cells are also referred to as 'solar modules' or, more commonly, 'solar panels'. Solar cells are based on semiconductor materials, such as silicon. And these specific materials are capable of producing electricity upon sunlight exposure - the phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect.

3. What is the lifetime of a solar cell?

The answer might just surprise you. It's a very durable technology.

Of course, external factors like weather, type of material used in the module and exact installation can play a part, but a standard silicon cell should live a long and functional life of 25 years.

4. Are there different types of solar cells and modules?

Yes. There are two main types of solar cells available in the market: rigid solar cells based on silicon, and thin-film solar cells.

The first, silicon, is the most popular technology today and accounts for more than 90% of the current market. Thin-film solar cells are more expensive, but do have the advantage of being lightweight and flexible.

5. What technology does Lightyear One use?

Lightyear One uses high-efficiency solar cells based on silicon, because this type of cell ensures optimal performance and aesthetics.

6. How large is the solar surface of the Lightyear One?

Lightyear One consists of five square metres of solar cells, installed across its hood, roof, and tailgate. We refer to Lightyear One's solar capacity in terms of 'cells' instead of 'panels'. If you have ever seen the car up close, you'll understand why. The solar modules are closer to skin cells than the larger 'panels' often associated with solar power, like the ones installed on rooftops.

7. How much solar capacity has the world installed in recent years?

The global installed solar capacity has almost doubled since 2017, growing from about 400 gigawatt to more than 760 gigawatt by the end of 2020.  

8. Which country has installed the most solar capacity?

China is the world’s largest solar market, followed by the United States, Japan and Germany.

9. What's the current share of solar power in the global energy mix?

In 2020, solar energy accounted for about 3% of global electricity generation, which is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Among other renewable energy technologies, such as wind, hydropower and biomass, solar is currently the third-largest source of renewable electricity.

10. How much can a solar-powered car save in CO2 emissions?

Solar energy is a green, renewable source of power. So, solar electric vehicles do not emit any CO2. Zero. They are truly clean. In contrast, a typical passenger car emits more than 4 metric tons of CO2 per year.

Our mission is to provide clean mobility for everyone, everywhere. That's the future we're driving with the help of people who learn about and believe in that mission - you.

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About Lightyear

We design for independence and convenience. We create clean solar electric cars that can drive off-grid and into all of life's adventures.

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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 848620