Solar PV: What is it and How does it Work?

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Solar PV technology is becoming more popular nowadays. One of the main reasons is that it is a renewable and truly abundant source of energy. It sparks interest to so many people. So, we will expound more about it in this article.

What is Solar PV?

Solar PV (photovoltaic) refers to the renewable energy technology that converts sunlight (solar radiation) into electricity. When sun rays (photons) hit the surface of the solar PV cell, it releases electron charges. This causes electric current to flow. When enough current is flowing, solar energy will be able to power homes, offices and other industries.

Generally, solar photovoltaic (PV) cell utilizes semiconductors deployed in a rectangular or square-shaped cell. Each PV cell has a set of positive and negative terminals. When they are interconnected with each other in one module, it becomes a solar panel.

Solar PV Background

The history of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology dates back in 1839. This was when the French physicist Edmond Becquerel built the first photovoltaic cell in his father’s laboratory. (Source)

In the 1950s, solar cells became available in niche markets. Then, it slowly became more popular as it was applied for off-grid use.

Today, solar PV technology has become more mainstream. Thanks to the exponentially declining costs of solar panels, there has been a significant increase in solar power system installations. As a result, more and more people are opting for solar energy as an alternative power source.

What are the types of PV cells?

A PV cell can be manufactured from different semiconductors. Silicon is the most commonly used material for this application. However, other materials are also being tested to convert solar energy into electricity. The list includes the following materials:

  • Monocrystalline Silicon
  • Polycrystalline Silicon
  • Gallium Arsenide (GaAs)
  • Amorphous Silicon
  • Cadmium Telluride (CdTe)
  • Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS)

What is a semiconductor?

A semiconductor is a material that has an electrical conductivity level around the middle of the scale of a metal and an insulator. Its conductivity varies depending on the temperature and presence of impurities.

PV Cell Semiconductor Characteristics

Inside a PV cell, the semiconductor will depend on the intensity of sunlight to allow the flow of electron charges. As sun rays hit the cell, the specially treated semiconductor material inside it increases its conductivity. If an electrical load is connected, electron charges flow into the circuit which produces an electric current.

What is Photovoltaic Effect?

The photovoltaic effect is the process that takes place during the conversion of sunlight into electricity within the solar PV cell.

This is a combination of physical and chemical phenomena which happens when the semiconductors inside a PV cell are exposed to sunlight.

How do solar PV cells work?

Solar PV cells work mainly on the photovoltaic effect. It capitalizes on this phenomenon to produce electrical energy from sunlight.

Each photon from sun rays carries a certain amount of energy. When it hits the semiconductor material, it forms an ‘electron pair hole’. This knocks loose electron charges inside the PV cell. As a result, electrons flowing into the circuit produce electricity.

Solar PV Panels

The solar cell is the core part of the solar panel. This means, each individual solar panel is composed of tiny solar cells which are connected in series and in parallel. The number of solar cells determines the total capacity of the solar panel itself. Thus, solar panels come in different forms and sizes.

The more solar cells, the higher the capacity of the solar panel is. The common sizes of solar modules usually have 60 or 72 cells. However, there have been more manufacturers who are producing from 12-cell up to 144-cell solar panels.

Solar PV System

A solar PV system is the network of electrical devices usually comprising the following: solar modules, inverter, solar DC cables, AC cables, metering cabinet, AC breakers, DC switches, battery bank and others.

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