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Solar Photovoltaic Technology Overview – Learn How Solar Cells Work

Photovoltaics, or PV for short, is a technology that converts light into electricity. It got its name from the process of converting photons of light into voltage, which is called the photovoltaic effect. Scientists at Bell Laboratories first used this phenomenon to create a working solar cell made from silicon that generated an electric current when exposed to sunlight. Today, electricity from solar cells has become cost competitive in many regions and photovoltaic systems are being deployed at large scales to help power the electric grid.


Silicon Solar Cells

Most solar cells are made from silicon and offer both reasonable prices and good efficiency (the rate at which the solar cell converts sunlight into electricity). These cells are usually assembled into larger modules that can be installed on the roofs of residential or commercial buildings or deployed on ground-mounted racks to create huge, utility-scale systems.


Thin-Film Solar Cells

Thin-film solar cells are PV cells that are made from very thin layers of semiconductor material. These layers are only a few micrometers—that is, several millionths of a meter. Thin-film solar cells can be flexible and lightweight, making them ideal for portable applications—such as in a soldier’s backpack—or for use in other products like windows that generate electricity from the sun. Some types of thin-film solar cells also benefit from manufacturing techniques that require less energy and are easier to scale up than the manufacturing techniques required by silicon solar cells.


III-V Solar Cells

Solar cells made from elements in groups III and V of the periodic table are known as III-V solar cells. These are usually more expensive to manufacture than other types of solar cells, but they convert sunlight into electricity at much higher efficiency levels. As such, they're often used in applications that require a high ratio of power-to-weight, such as satellites and UAVs.


Next-Generation Solar Cells

Researchers at NREL and elsewhere are pursuing many new photovoltaic technologies, such as solar cells made from organic materials, quantum dots and hybrid organic-inorganic materials (also known as perovskites). These next-generation technologies may offer lower costs or greater ease of manufacture. Further research will see if these promises can be realized.


Reliability and Grid Integration Research

Photovoltaic research is more than just making a high-efficiency, low-cost solar cell. Homeowners and businesses want to know if their solar panels will continue to reliably generate electricity for many years, and utilities and government regulators want to know how to add solar PV systems to the electric grid without destabilizing the careful balancing act between electricity supply and demand.


As a qualified Energy Conservation Specialist, Valley Voltage offers a variety of services to fit every homeowner's needs! Contact us today!


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