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Solar Photovoltaic (PV) technology converts the sun’s energy into direct current electricity by using semiconductors.

Solar Pv

Definition

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) is a technology that converts sunlight (solar radiation) into direct current electricity by using semiconductors. When the sun hits the semiconductor within the PV cell, electrons are freed and form an electric current.

Solar PV technology is generally employed on a panel (hence solar panels). PV cells are typically found connected to each other and mounted on a frame called a module. Multiple modules can be wired together to form an array, which can be scaled up or down to produce the amount of power needed.

PV cells can be made from various semi-conductor materials. The most commonly used material today is silicon but other materials, such the ones listed below, are being tested and used to increase the efficiency of converting sunlight to electricity.

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

Almost 90% of the world’s PV technologies, today, are based on some variation of silicon[1]IPCC. (2011). IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. IPCC. (2011). IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. IPCC. (2011). IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. IPCC. (2011). IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. IPCC. (2011). IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. IPCC. (2011). IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. . In 2011, about 95% of all shipments by U.S. manufacturers to the residential sector were crystalline silicon solar panels[2]US Department of Energy. (2012, 02 29). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from SunShot Initiative: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/vision_study.html US Department of Energy. (2012, 02 29). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from SunShot Initiative: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/vision_study.html US Department of Energy. (2012, 02 29). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from SunShot Initiative: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/vision_study.html US Department of Energy. (2012, 02 29). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from SunShot Initiative: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/vision_study.html US Department of Energy. (2012, 02 29). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from SunShot Initiative: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/vision_study.html US Department of Energy. (2012, 02 29). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from SunShot Initiative: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/vision_study.html .

The major difference between the technologies is the material used to generate electricity out of sunlight. Each type of material has different attributes, resulting in different applications and efficiencies. In general the efficiency of solar PV technologies varies, ranging between 6-18% at the moment.

Context

Solar PV first appeared in niche markets in the 1950s and slowly became more mainstream as it was used in off-grid applications

Unlike solar thermal technologies, solar PV relies on sunlight, which means that when the sun does not shine electricity is not produced.

One important advantage of solar PV is it that utilizes the most abundant renewable energy resource on the planet, the sun. Estimates show that there is 10,000x more solar energy coming to the Earth’s surface than global annual fossil fuel demand[3]Chandler, David. “Vast amounts of solar energy radiate to the Earth, but tapping it cost-effectively remains a challenge”. Phys.org.  October 2011. http://phys.org/news/2011-10-vast-amounts-solar-energy-earth.html#jCp Chandler, David. “Vast amounts of solar energy radiate to the Earth, but tapping it cost-effectively remains a challenge”. Phys.org.  October 2011. http://phys.org/news/2011-10-vast-amounts-solar-energy-earth.html#jCp Chandler, David. “Vast amounts of solar energy radiate to the Earth, but tapping it cost-effectively remains a challenge”. Phys.org.  October 2011. http://phys.org/news/2011-10-vast-amounts-solar-energy-earth.html#jCp Chandler, David. “Vast amounts of solar energy radiate to the Earth, but tapping it cost-effectively remains a challenge”. Phys.org.  October 2011. http://phys.org/news/2011-10-vast-amounts-solar-energy-earth.html#jCp Chandler, David. “Vast amounts of solar energy radiate to the Earth, but tapping it cost-effectively remains a challenge”. Phys.org.  October 2011. http://phys.org/news/2011-10-vast-amounts-solar-energy-earth.html#jCp Chandler, David. “Vast amounts of solar energy radiate to the Earth, but tapping it cost-effectively remains a challenge”. Phys.org.  October 2011. http://phys.org/news/2011-10-vast-amounts-solar-energy-earth.html#jCp .

Another advantage of solar PV’s is that it transitions electricity generation from large, centralized facilities to smaller, decentralized production sites (ie. residential rooftops). This turns former energy consumers into so-called “prosumers," people that can produce and consume their own electricity.

Traditionally, concerns about solar PV were about cost, intermittency and efficiency, but large-scale implementation and rapid cost decline[4]SolarServer. (2013). SolarServer. Retrieved from Indian SREC demand - prices fall in May 2013: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw23/indian-srec-demand-prices-fall-in-may-2013.html SolarServer. (2013). SolarServer. Retrieved from Indian SREC demand - prices fall in May 2013: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw23/indian-srec-demand-prices-fall-in-may-2013.html SolarServer. (2013). SolarServer. Retrieved from Indian SREC demand - prices fall in May 2013: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw23/indian-srec-demand-prices-fall-in-may-2013.html SolarServer. (2013). SolarServer. Retrieved from Indian SREC demand - prices fall in May 2013: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw23/indian-srec-demand-prices-fall-in-may-2013.html SolarServer. (2013). SolarServer. Retrieved from Indian SREC demand - prices fall in May 2013: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw23/indian-srec-demand-prices-fall-in-may-2013.html SolarServer. (2013). SolarServer. Retrieved from Indian SREC demand - prices fall in May 2013: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw23/indian-srec-demand-prices-fall-in-may-2013.html  in places like Germany and USA have revealed more complex issues such as grid compatibility, lack of solar industry expertise, and the use of rare and precious metals that make up the cells. 

References

  1. ^ IPCC. (2011). IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Prepared by Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. 
  2. ^ US Department of Energy. (2012, 02 29). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from SunShot Initiative: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/sunshot/vision_study.html 
  3. ^ Chandler, David. “Vast amounts of solar energy radiate to the Earth, but tapping it cost-effectively remains a challenge”. Phys.org.  October 2011. http://phys.org/news/2011-10-vast-amounts-solar-energy-earth.html#jCp 
  4. ^ SolarServer. (2013). SolarServer. Retrieved from Indian SREC demand - prices fall in May 2013: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw23/indian-srec-demand-prices-fall-in-may-2013.html 

International Organizations

Solar Energy International

Solar Electric Power Association

Solar Power International

International Solar Energy Society

International or Prominent Industry Associations

Australian PV Institute

Solar Power Europe

Solar Energy Industries Association

Solar United

Australian Solar Council

Research Institutions

Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore

Fraunhofer ISE

MIT Photovoltaics Research Laboratory

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Australian PV Institute

Institut für Halbleitertechnik (IHT)

Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics

Solar Energy Research Institute for India and the United States (SERIIUS)

National Solar Energy Institute (INES)

Scottish Institute for Solar Energy Research

Academic Journals

IEEE Journal of PV

ASME-Journal of Solar Energy Engineering

PV Resources

Elsevier-Solar Energy

History of Solar PV

USC – A History of Photovoltaics

US Department of Energy – The History of Solar

Schoolgen – A Short History of Photovoltaic Cells

Economics of Solar PV

University of Nebraska – Economics of Solar Photovoltaic Systems

University of Berkeley – The Economics of Solar Electricity

ScienceDirect – Techno-economic analysis of solar photovoltaic power plant

NREL – An Economic Analysis of Photovoltaic versus Traditional Energy Sources

NREL – Feasibility Study of Economics and Performance of Solar Photovoltaics 

Environmental Impact of Solar PV

Union of Concerned Scientists – Environmental Impacts of Solar Power

PV Resources – Environmental Impacts of Photovoltaic Technologies

Center for Alternative Energy UK – What is the environmental impact of PV solar panels?

ScienceDirect – Environmental impacts of microgeneration: Integrating solar PV

Business Analysis of Solar PV

McKinsey – Solar power: Darkest before dawn

Malardalen University – Global Solar Photovoltaic Industry Analysis 

Lappeenranta University of Tech. – Comparative Analysis of Solar PV Business Model

Clean Edge – The Texas Solar PV Market

Health Impact of Solar PV

Good Company – Health and Safety Concerns of Photovoltaic Solar Panels

NCBI – Occupational Health: On the Job with Solar PV

ScienceDirect – Towards cleaner solar PV: Environmental and health impacts

NRDC – Health and Safety Considerations with Solar Photovoltaic Technologies

California Energy Commision – Potential Health and Environmental Impacts 

Sustainability of Solar PV

eTool Global – The full cycle: How sustainable is solar PV

ScienceDirect – Sustainability of photovoltaics: The case for thin-film solar cells

Williams College – Solar PV

Continuity and Resilience – Sustainability: Solar PV

Interesting Essay/Articles

National Geographic – How Green Are Those Solar Panels, Really?

IEEE Spectrum – Solar Energy Isn’t as Green as You Think

Renewable Energy World – Keeping it clean: Reducing environmental impacts

Low-Tech Magazine – How Sustainable is PV Solar Power

Take a Step Back

Solar

Solar energy refers to technologies that convert the sun's heat or light to another form of energy for use.

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Solar Thermal

Solar Thermal technologies capture the heat energy from the sun and use it for heating and/or the production of electricity