Solar Photovoltaic Technology

Solar cells, also called photovoltaic (PV) cells by scientists, convert sunlight directly into electricity.

PV gets its name from the process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage), which is called the PV effect, which was first observed in 1839. The PV effect was put into practical use in 1954, when scientists at Bell Telephone discovered that silicon (the second most common element on earth, and found in sand) created an electric charge when exposed to sunlight. Soon solar cells were being used to power space satellites and smaller items like calculators and watches. Today, thousands of people power their homes and businesses with individual solar PV systems. Utility companies are also using PV technology for large power stations.

Solar panels used to power homes and businesses are typically made from solar cells combined into modules that hold about 60 cells. A typical home will use about 20 to 30 solar panels to power the home. The panels are mounted at a fixed angle facing south, or they can be mounted on a tracking device that follows the sun, allowing them to capture the most sunlight. Many solar panels combined together to create one system is called a solar array. For large electric utility or industrial applications, hundreds of solar arrays are interconnected to form a large utility-scale PV system.

Informational Videos

These videos  are from our friends at the Solar Energy Industries Association:

This is from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is operated under the United States Department of Energy.  This video provides an overview of the Center for Photovoltaics and its research:

Video produced for NREL by Fireside Production.