Evolution left my Scandinavian ancestors with a low level of photoprotective pigment, melanin. That, and a receding hairline, gave me an appreciation for the power of the sun here in California. UV radiation can cause a sunburn in as little as 15 minutes - trust me. Did you know that lower frequencies of sunlight (less than the sunburn) are sufficient to make electrons jump the band gap in solar cells within a photovoltaic (PV) system? Stack enough solar cells in a big enough array and you can generate some serious power without the negative side-effects of fossil fuels.
Solar cells are made of semiconductor material. It's not exactly the same as the semiconductor materials made here at Analog Devices. We make a range of devices that help efficiently convert the power from those solar cells into stored charge in batteries, or electricity for the grid.
Since you are already in EngineerZone, search for "solar" and you'll find a post on hacking an LED solar garden light. I like that one because those little panels are smaller than my forehead. Instinctively, I know that the top of my head burns more quickly than the front of my head - being perpendicular to the sun is more efficient! Many solar panels have motors which change the angle throughout the day but even static panels can be optimized. And that leads us to the concept of maximum power point tracking (MPPT). The load characteristics can be optimized for maximum transfer efficiency from the solar cell. This is done with a control loop that monitors the current and voltage (the I-V curve) and keeps it at the point of maximum power. ADI makes DC-DC converters that work with MPPT as well as microcontrollers to do the math. We also make converters to efficiently store all that charge at the right voltage for different types of batteries - a DC application. DC applications have a global impact but not as much as AC - meaning, household electricity. To make AC electricity out of a solar panel requires an inverter.
For a traditional inverter, ADI makes ARM-based mixed-signal control processors, Sigma-Delta-based current sensors, and iCoupler products to interface signals from dangerously high voltages. Recently, we partnered with SolarEdge to launch what may be a revolution based on the industry’s first system-on-a-chip for solar inverters. They are the fastest ARM Cortex® M4 based control processors of their kind, and feature the industry’s most precise A/D converters, 16-bit accuracy, and a series of dedicated hardware accelerators. Continuing from the announcement, "The ultimate result of SolarEdge and Analog Devices’ collaboration is an inverter that’s half the size and weight of traditional inverters with a significant reduction in all that expensive metal." (That metal being all the bulky magnetics used to filter the AC waveform for processing in traditional inverters.) Trust me, that's cool!
Hopefully, this continues the trend away from fossil fuels as a source of electricity around the world. Somewhere in Scandinavia, distant relatives of mine are converting their countries to solar power. Oh sure, their panels are nearly vertical half the year but it is still remarkably efficient. I read somewhere that parts of Norway are better for solar power than parts of Germany due to cloud cover. I've got distant relatives there, too. The point is, wherever there is sunlight, there can be power, unlike sunburns which are more dependent on latitude and less on cloud cover. Again, trust me on that. It's unlikely that evolution will prevent future generations from getting sunburns as easily, but with the help of ADI it's very likely that those generations will get most of their power from solar.
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