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What is Photovoltaic Technology?
Photovoltaics, or PV, is a green energy source that uses solar radiation in order to generate electric power. It is the most well known method for turning solar radiation into usable electricity. In photovoltaics, energy from the sun is converted into an electrical current using semiconductors. These semiconductors have a photovoltaic effect. During this process, the solar radiation excites electrons, which are then transferred between various bands, such as the conduction bands. This results in a build up of voltage between the two electrodes in the cell. Photovoltaic technology requires a light source, and primarily depends on energy from the sun.
Photovoltaics are typically seen in the form of solar panels. These solar panels contain a number of solar cells containing photovoltaic material. These panels can be found on roofs of buildings, including homes or businesses. In addition, solar panels can be ground mounted, such as in solar power plants and in the form of photovoltaic trees.
Photovoltaic technology was first used in order to power satellites and spacecraft orbiting in space. However, due to an increase in the availability of photovoltaic technology as well as an increase in the demand for clean energy sources, solar panels are now commonly used for grid connected power generation. In addition, this technology can be used to power cars, boats, houses, roadside telephones, remote sensors on gates, and various aspects businesses such as zoos and parks.
Since 2002, photovoltaic production has been increasing by an average of 20 percent a year. While over 90% of photovoltaic technology is used for grid-tied electric systems, an increasing number of off-grid uses are being discovered. Photovoltaic technology is the fastest growing energy technology in the world. It is estimated that by the year 2030, enough photovoltaic technology will exist to produce the solar power necessary to meet the electricity needs for 14 percent of the world’s population.
Germany, Japan, and the United States lead the world in photovoltaic installations, with those three countries representing 89 percent of the world’s total installations. Germany also holds the record of being the fastest growing photovoltaic market in the world from 2006 to 2007, and by the end of 2006, almost 90 percent of all photovoltaic installations in Europe involved applications in Germany.
Materials for photovoltaic solar panels can vary. Silicon in various forms is one material that can be used. Some of these forms include monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous silicon. Crystalline silicon modules are estimated to account for up to 31 percent of all global installed power within the next two years. In addition, cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium sulfide can be used. Solar panels that are used as rooftop shingles and tiles or building facades are made to be flexible and thin, with semiconductor materials only being a few micrometers thick. In areas of the world with plenty of sun, a third generation of solar cells can be used. These cells can be made of solar inks created from dyes and conductive plastics. In addition, the new generation of solar cells utilizes plastic lenses or mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto small pieces of photovoltaic material.
Since all solar cells are only effective when used outdoors, solar cells require significant protection from environmental elements and hazards. Glass sheets are often used to protect tightly packed solar cells. Each solar panel typically holds 40 cells. The average home will require approximately 10 to 20 solar panels in order to generate enough electricity to power the house. Panels must be mounted on either a fixed angle facing south or on a device that allows the panels to track the sun. The mounted panels form an array, and hundreds of arrays can be connected to form a system used for industrial or electric plant applications.
With so many uses, it’s easy to see why photovoltaic technology is quickly advancing and becoming a popular form of electricity production. As technology changes and advances and incentives to install systems are created, photovoltaic technology is fast becoming a viable option for consumers, from large-scale businesses to private residential homes.