Photovoltaic: the basics

PV technology was first applied in space, by providing electricity to satellites. Anyone who has used a modern mathematical calculator can grasp the concept of photovoltaic (PV.) It is simply the process of converting energy from the Sun into electricity that can power everything from household appliances, light, sprinkler systems, and water pumps to large-scale communications, industrials, and military equipment.

In precisely the same way as the small solar cells on hand-held calculators eliminate the need for batteries, PV can provide the world with a clean, reliable source of electricity and reduce our reliance on ever-depleting fossil fuels.

The PV technology of the 21st Century makes it possible. It employs layers of micro-fine crystalline silicon to convert ordinary sunlight into small electrical charges. This process is then multiplied thousands of times over to create modules and systems that can generate enough electricity to power entire towns.

It’s important to note that PV is different from the ‘passive’ solar thermal energy used for heating or in hot water production. A single PV cell consists of two or more thin layers of semi-conducting material, most commonly crystalline silicon. When the silicon is exposed to light, small electrical charges are generated and conducted away by metal contacts as direct current (DC).

In order to maximize energy collection and conversion, single cells are connected together and housed in a module. These modules are the building blocks of PV systems and are, in turn, connected together to generate usable volumes of electricity. In some instances, an inverter is also used to convert low voltage DC into higher voltage AC power.

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