Animated Infographic: How Solar Panels Work
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Animation: How Solar Panels Work



Humans have been trying to harness the sun’s energy for most of history, but it was the invention of the first photovoltaic cell by French physicist Edmond Becquerel in 1839 that finally made solar energy possible on a grander scale.

Since then, solar has come a long way.

Not only has the cost of producing solar panels dropped like a rock, manufacturers are now routinely pumping out new innovations such as flexible solar cells, ultra-thin cells, and transparent photovoltaic windows. These could be game-changers for the industry, adding to the already incredible 39% annual growth occurring in U.S. solar capacity between 2013-2017.

Animated Infographic: How Solar Panels Work

Today’s infographic comes from SaveOnEnergy, and it covers the science behind how solar panels work.

While it is fairly technical, the handy animations will help you understand the principles behind photovoltaic cells in no time at all.

In terms of our understanding of how different energy sources work, perhaps the photovoltaic effect is one of the least intuitive processes for the average person to comprehend. After all, something like capturing wind energy is much more straightforward. The wind spins a turbine, and that turbine generates electricity.

But solar panels have no moving parts. So how do these thin, glassy arrays turn sunlight into energy we can use?

Each solar cell is made of multiple layers. The top semiconductor is a negative layer, which means the material contains extra electrons. The sun’s energy “shakes” these electrons loose, and these electrons become naturally attracted to the bottom semiconductor layer, which is positively charged. The design of the cell forces electrons to move in a specific direction, creating an electrical current.

Solar Cell Anatomy

Why are solar panels getting so much cheaper? Technological advances have made cells more efficient in using the photovoltaic effect to create electricity, and manufacturing processes are improving as well.

Interestingly, in the future, it is expected that cost reductions will be tilted more to “soft” costs such as those related to the financing, permitting, and selling of solar projects.

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Who’s Still Buying Fossil Fuels From Russia?

Here are the top importers of Russian fossil fuels since the start of the war.



The Largest Importers of Russian Fossil Fuels Since the War

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Despite looming sanctions and import bans, Russia exported $97.7 billion worth of fossil fuels in the first 100 days since its invasion of Ukraine, at an average of $977 million per day.

So, which fossil fuels are being exported by Russia, and who is importing these fuels?

The above infographic tracks the biggest importers of Russia’s fossil fuel exports during the first 100 days of the war based on data from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

In Demand: Russia’s Black Gold

The global energy market has seen several cyclical shocks over the last few years.

The gradual decline in upstream oil and gas investment followed by pandemic-induced production cuts led to a drop in supply, while people consumed more energy as economies reopened and winters got colder. Consequently, fossil fuel demand was rising even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which exacerbated the market shock.

Russia is the third-largest producer and second-largest exporter of crude oil. In the 100 days since the invasion, oil was by far Russia’s most valuable fossil fuel export, accounting for $48 billion or roughly half of the total export revenue.

Fossil fuelRevenue from exports (Feb 24 - June 4)% of total Russian fossil fuel export revenue
Crude oil$48.3B49.4%
Pipeline gas$25.2B25.8%
Oil products$13.6B13.9%
Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)$5.4B5.5%

While Russian crude oil is shipped on tankers, a network of pipelines transports Russian gas to Europe. In fact, Russia accounts for 41% of all natural gas imports to the EU, and some countries are almost exclusively dependent on Russian gas. Of the $25 billion exported in pipeline gas, 85% went to the EU.

The Top Importers of Russian Fossil Fuels

The EU bloc accounted for 61% of Russia’s fossil fuel export revenue during the 100-day period.

Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands—members of both the EU and NATO—were among the largest importers, with only China surpassing them.

CountryValue of fossil fuel imports from Russia (Feb 24 - Jun 4)% of Russian fossil fuel export revenue
🇨🇳 China$13.2B13.5%
🇩🇪 Germany$12.7B12.9%
🇮🇹 Italy$8.2B8.4%
🇳🇱 Netherlands$8.2B8.4%
🇹🇷 Turkey$7.0B7.2%
🇵🇱 Poland$4.6B4.7%
🇫🇷 France$4.5B4.6%
🇮🇳 India$3.6B3.7%
🌍 Other$35.7B36.5%

China overtook Germany as the largest importer, importing nearly 2 million barrels of discounted Russian oil per day in May—up 55% relative to a year ago. Similarly, Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia as China’s largest oil supplier.

The biggest increase in imports came from India, buying 18% of all Russian oil exports during the 100-day period. A significant amount of the oil that goes to India is re-exported as refined products to the U.S. and Europe, which are trying to become independent of Russian imports.

Reducing Reliance on Russia

In response to the invasion of Ukraine, several countries have taken strict action against Russia through sanctions on exports, including fossil fuels. 

The U.S. and Sweden have banned Russian fossil fuel imports entirely, with monthly import volumes down 100% and 99% in May relative to when the invasion began, respectively.

importers of russian fossil fuels

On a global scale, monthly fossil fuel import volumes from Russia were down 15% in May, an indication of the negative political sentiment surrounding the country.

It’s also worth noting that several European countries, including some of the largest importers over the 100-day period, have cut back on Russian fossil fuels. Besides the EU’s collective decision to reduce dependence on Russia, some countries have also refused the country’s ruble payment scheme, leading to a drop in imports.

The import curtailment is likely to continue. The EU recently adopted a sixth sanction package against Russia, placing a complete ban on all Russian seaborne crude oil products. The ban, which covers 90% of the EU’s oil imports from Russia, will likely realize its full impact after a six-to-eight month period that permits the execution of existing contracts.

While the EU is phasing out Russian oil, several European countries are heavily reliant on Russian gas. A full-fledged boycott on Russia’s fossil fuels would also hurt the European economy—therefore, the phase-out will likely be gradual, and subject to the changing geopolitical environment.

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Oil and Gas

How Affordable is Gas in Latin America?

This graphic looks at gas affordability in Latin America, showing how much a liter of gas costs in 19 countries, relative to average incomes.



How Affordable is Gas in Latin America?

As gas prices have risen around the world, not each region and country is impacted equally.

Globally, the average price for a liter of gas was $1.44 USD on June 13, 2022.

But the actual price at the pump, and how affordable that price is for residents, varies greatly from country to country. This is especially true in Latin America, a region widely regarded as one of the world’s most unequal regions in terms of its income and resource distribution.

Using monthly data from as of May 2022, this graphic by Latinometrics compares gas affordability in different countries across Latin America.

Gas Affordability in 19 Different Latin American Countries

To measure gas affordability, Latinometrics took the price of a liter of gas in 19 different Latin American countries and territories, and divided those figures by each country’s average daily income, using salary data from Statista.

Out of the 19 regions included in the dataset, Venezuela has the most affordable gas on the list. In Venezuela, a liter of gas is equivalent to roughly 1.3% of the country’s average daily income.

CountryGas price as of May 2022 (USD)% of average daily income
🇳🇮 Nicaragua$1.3714.0%
​🇩🇴​ Dominican Republic$1.4112.6%
🇧🇷​ Brazil$1.4312.5%
🇵🇾​ Paraguay$1.3912.2%
🇵🇪 Peru$1.5310.2%
🇺🇾 Uruguay$1.929.8%
🇸🇻​ El Salvador$1.149.2%
​​🇭🇳​ Honduras$1.338.6%
🇲🇽​ Mexico$1.177.8%
🇬🇹​ Guatemala$1.447.7%
🇦🇷 Argentina$1.066.7%
​🇨🇱​ Chile$1.376.6%
🇨🇷​ Costa Rica$1.425.9%
🇨🇴 Colombia$0.585.7%
​🇵🇦 ​Panama$1.275.0%
🇪🇨 Ecuador$0.674.1%
🇧🇴 Bolivia$0.543.2%
🇵🇷​ Puerto Rico$1.352.2%
🇻🇪​ Venezuela$0.021.3%

This isn’t too surprising, as Venezuela is home to the largest share of proven oil reserves in the world. However, it’s worth noting that international sanctions against Venezuelan oil, largely because of political corruption, have hampered the once prosperous sector in the country.

On the other end of the spectrum, Nicaragua has the least affordable gas on the list, with one liter of gas costing 14% of the average daily income in the country.

Historically, the Nicaraguan government has not regulated gas prices in the country, but in light of the current global energy crisis triggered in large part by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the government has stepped in to help control the situation.

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues with no end in sight, it’ll be interesting to see where prices are at in the next few months.

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