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Solar Photovoltaic Technology Basics

August 16, 2013 - 4:47pm

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Photovoltaic (PV) materials and devices convert sunlight into electrical energy. A single PV device is known as a cell. An individual PV cell is usually small, typically producing about 1 or 2 watts of power. To boost the power output of PV cells, they are connected together in chains to form larger units known as modules or panels. Modules can be used individually, or several can be connected to form arrays. One or more arrays is then connected to the electrical grid as part of a complete PV system. Because of this modular structure, PV systems can be built to meet almost any electric power need, small or large.

The largest PV systems in the country are located in California and produce power for utilities to distribute to their customers. The Solar Star PV power station produces 579 megawatts of electricity, while the Topaz Solar Farm and Desert Sunlight Solar Farm each produce 550 megawatts.

Photovoltaic Solar Cells 

Commonly known as solar cells, individual PV cells are electricity-producing devices made of different semiconductor materials. PV cells come in many sizes and shapes, from smaller than a postage stamp to several inches across. Solar cells are often less than the thickness of four human hairs. In order to withstand the outdoors for many years, cells are sandwiched between protective materials in a combination of glass and/or plastics to make a PV module. 

Learn more about solar cells.

Photovoltaic Solar Energy Systems 

PV modules and arrays are just one part of a PV system. Systems also include mounting structures that point panels toward the sun, along with the components that take the direct-current (DC) electricity produced by modules and convert it to the alternating-current (AC) electricity used to power all of the appliances in your home. 

Learn more about solar energy systems.

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