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Going Solar: Exploring the Photovoltaic Effect

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Renewable energy these days is beneficial for many people. Not only for residential use but a lot of companies and big industries utilize this kind of resource. Solar energy not only saves you costs in paying electricity bills, but it can also save you from inconveniences during sudden grid outages, and it can be beneficial to the environment as it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and lessens the effect of climate change.

Photovoltaic Effect

This article will focus on the exploration of the Photovoltaic Effect. If you are considering going solar – then this article will be a good read for you.

What is the Photovoltaic Effect and How Does it Work? 

Solar panels are the main component responsible for harvesting the energy coming from the sun, processing it, and then converting it into electricity that can be utilized for different applications. This whole process is called the photovoltaic effect or where the production of solar energy takes place. In this process, the energy coming from the sun is collected through solar panels and then absorbed by the solar cells. The electrons composing the solar cells will become excited causing them to move from one direction to another, which will result in the production of electricity.

An individual cell is called the photovoltaic cell which is usually six inches long and six inches wide. Most solar panels are composed of 60 solar cells. These are sandwiched into glass or plastics that serve as their protection and help prolong their lifespan.

Understanding the Basics of the Photovoltaic Effect

The light that comes from the sun has photons and through electromagnetic radiation, hits the solar cells. It will be absorbed by the silicon material and will be processed by the photovoltaic cells working together with other semiconductor components to produce electricity.

How is Sunlight Converted into Electricity? 

Ever wonder how sunlight can be a source of electricity? To make it simple, it is through the photovoltaic effect, solar cells, and solar panels, that sunlight can produce electricity, making it available for use to your electronic devices.

How do the Semiconductors Contribute to the Photovoltaic Effect?

Photovoltaic cells have a variety of semiconductors. The most common one is the silicon or the semiconductor layer. This is the most important because it is the one that harvests, absorbs, and converts sunlight into energy. The other one, the conducting materials, are made of metals such as copper, aluminum, and wire that have a malleable quality making them perfect for shaping into wires. The role of this is to collect the electricity that was produced by the other semiconductor.

Photovoltaic Effect: The Evolution

French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel took a big part in the discovery of the photovoltaic effect. It was somewhere between 1839 and 1899 when the discovery of the photovoltaic effect took place. Becquerel was experimenting with metal electrodes and electrolytes when he discovered that there is a reaction to materials when exposed to sunlight. This discovery was the key to understanding and going more in-depth with the photovoltaic effect, through the contribution of another renowned scientist, Albert Einstein through the paper that he wrote. It was in 1883 when Charles Fritts invented the first solar panel that was composed of a thin layer of selenium with an extremely thin layer of gold.  

The innovation continued and the use of solar energy became more prominent in different applications like calculators, watches, radios, and other electronic essentials during the 1980s. Up to this day, this significant discovery is still widely used everywhere.

Get to Know the Main Types of Photovoltaic Cells

Other than being familiar with photovoltaic cells, it is also important to get to know its 3 main types which are Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline, and Thin-film solar cells.

Monocrystalline Cells

Monocrystalline cells, also called solar cells, are purely made of silicon cells. It went through the Czochralski process – a method of making very high-quality crystals by melting materials (such as silicon) pulling a single crystal out of the melt as it cools down. The entire volume of the cell is a single crystal of silicon which is why it is referred to as monocrystalline. Monocrystalline cells are in black colors and are known to be more efficient because it is more light-absorbent compared to the blue-colored cells. In terms of costs, it is considered to be the most expensive among the other types because of its manufacturing process, it requires a lot of effort to construct and that includes wastage of some materials.

Monocrystalline Cells

This is best applicable to areas that have limited space. It can produce energy at a maximum level even when in areas that do not receive much sunlight.

Polycrystalline Cells

Polycrystalline cells, the next type of PV cells, are also known as poly-silicon or multi-silicon cells. It is made of multiple silicon crystal structures within a single cell. The process of manufacturing this is melting the silicon materials, pouring them into square molds, and then cooling them down. It takes about 20 hours for the materials to melt and three hours for it to cool down.  With how it is made, the space for the electrons to move around is limited, making it less efficient compared to monocrystalline cells. This type of PV cells is sensitive to high temperatures, they tend to be less functional in tropical climates. 

Its manufacturing process does not cost much, and it has less material waste, which is why its overall cost is not expensive. 

Thin-film Solar Cells

The third type is called the thin-film solar cell. By the name itself, it can be easily identified due to its appearance. It is 350 times thinner than the other types of PV cells and thinner than human hair. With this feature, it applies mostly to portable devices. Additionally, it is more flexible and lightweight making it applicable and convenient to use on the roof of camper vans, perfect for an outdoor activity.  

In terms of its function, although it is very different in its appearance, it works the same with the monocrystalline and polycrystalline types of cells.

Photovoltaic Effect: Additional Facts

How do PV cells work, and what do they do?  

PV cells are the main component responsible for converting energy coming from the sun which is then absorbed by the solar cells. It works with the other components of the solar system, such as the sun, which is the source, the solar cells, and the batteries, to complete the process of the photovoltaic effect. This is an important component of a solar installation. Without this, the conversion of sunlight into electricity could not take place.

Photovoltaic and Solar Cells: What is the Difference? 

For someone who is not much into this stuff, comparing photovoltaic and solar cells may seem to be complicated to understand. Getting straight to the point –photovoltaic cells may or may not include solar cells because it generally refers to any source, other than solar, such as artificial light, which can be converted to electricity. In contrast, solar cells are specific to only converting sunlight into electricity which is a major part of a solar system. They work together to absorb energy coming from the sun and then convert it to usable electricity.

The Photovoltaic Cells: What Are They Made of?

Photovoltaic cells are made up of a variety of materials which are mainly silicon materials. This material is used because of its ability to capture sunlight and then convert it into electricity. It is low in cost but is suitable for long-term use.

There are also types of PV cells that are made up of cadmium telluride (CdTe), the second most common component found in PV cells. Its manufacturing process does not require a huge cost making it less efficient compared to silicon. This type requires extra protection to extend its lifespan.

The Comparison between Solar PV and Solar Thermal 

One thing that is common with solar PV and solar thermal is that they both harvest the energy coming from the sun and then convert it into electricity. Solar PV makes use of solar panels by directly converting the energy that comes from the sun into electricity, while Solar Thermal uses big mirrors referred to as heliostats. It concentrates the sunlight on the receiver (fluid) raising its temperature to produce steam. The steam it produces will be processed in a conventional turbine to produce electricity.

Final Thoughts on the Exploration of the Photovoltaic Effect

Going solar indeed is a good option if you are someone who wants to contribute to making the environment a better place to live in. Other than that, utilization of renewable resources saves you costs in paying electricity bills and could even make your life convenient at times of being off-grid.

The entire solar system is not as simple as someone might think. However, it is also not that hard to understand. There is a lot to learn about, and surely before going into this type of investment, one must satisfy one's curiosity. With proper advice from a professional and sufficient research, going solar might be the next option that you might want to go for. Going solar with Growatt today!

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