Solar Photovoltaic Panels
Photovoltaics, or PV for short, is a solar power technology
that uses solar cells or solar photovoltaic arrays to convert
energy from the sun into electricity. Photovoltaics is also
the field of study relating to this technology.
Solar cells produce direct current electricity from the
sun's rays, which can be used to power equipment or to
recharge a battery. Many pocket calculators incorporate a
When more power is required than a single cell can deliver,
cells are generally grouped together to form "PV modules" that
may in turn be arranged in "solar arrays" which are sometimes
ambiguously referred to as solar panels. Such solar arrays
have been used to power orbiting satellites and other
spacecraft and in remote areas as a source of power for
applications such as roadside emergency telephones, remote
sensing, and cathodic protection of pipelines. The continual
decline of manufacturing costs (dropping at 3 to 5% a year in
recent years) is expanding the range of cost-effective uses
including roadsigns, home power generation and even
grid-connected electricity generation.
Large-scale incentive programs, offering financial
incentives like the ability to sell excess electricity back to
the public grid ("feed-in"), have greatly accelerated the pace
of solar PV installations in Spain, Germany, Japan, the United
States, Australia, South Korea, Italy, Greece, France, China
and other countries.
Average solar irradiance, watts per square metre. Note that
this is for a horizontal surface, whereas solar panels are
normally propped up at an angle and receive more energy per
unit area.Many corporations and institutions are currently
developing ways to increase the practicality of solar power.
While private companies conduct much of the research and
development on solar energy, colleges and universities also
work on solar-powered devices.
The most important issue with solar panels is cost. Because
of much increased demand, the price of silicon used for most
panels is now experiencing upward pressure. This has caused
developers to start using other materials and thinner silicon
to keep cost down. Due to economies of scale solar panels get
less costly as people use and buy more as manufacturers
increase production, the cost is expected to continue to drop
in the years to come. As of early 2006, the average cost per
installed watt was about USD 6.50 to USD 7.50, including
panels, inverters, mounts, and electrical items.
Grid-tied systems represented the largest growth area. In
the USA, with incentives from state governments, power
companies and (in 2006 and 2007) from the federal government,
growth is expected to climb. Net metering programs are one
type of incentive driving growth in solar panel use. Net
metering allows electricity customers to get credit for any
extra power they send back into the grid. This would cause
role reversal, as the utility company would be the buyer, and
the solar panel owner would be the seller of electricity. To
spur growth of their renewable energy market, Germany has
adopted an extreme form of net metering, whereby customers get
paid 8 times what the power company charges them for any
surplus they supply back to the grid. That large premium has
made a huge demand in solar panels for that area.
PV in buildings
Solar arrays are increasingly incorporated into new
domestic and industrial buildings as a principal or ancillary
source of electrical power. Typically, an array is
incorporated into the roof or walls of a building, roof tiles
can now even be purchased with an integrated PV cell. Arrays
can also be retrofitted into existing buildings; in this case
they are usually fitted on top of the existing roof structure.
Alternatively, an array can be located separately from the
building but connected by cable to supply power for the
Where a building is at a considerable distance from the
public electricity supply (or grid) - in remote or mountainous
areas -PV may be the only possibility for generating
electricity, or PV may be used together with wind and/or
hydroelectric power. In such off-grid circumstances batteries
are usually used to store the electric power. However, the
largest installations are grid-connected systems (see table
below). These systems are connected to the utility grid
through a direct current to alternating current (DC-AC)
inverter. When the load required in the building is more than
that supplied by the PV array then electricity will be drawn
from the grid; conversely when the PV array is generating more
power than is needed in the building then electricity will be
exported to the grid. Batteries are not required and standard
AC electrical equipment may be used. The average lowest retail
cost of a large PV module declined from USD 7.50 to USD 4 per
watt between 1990 and 2004. However, prices have gone up
15-20% in 2005-2006 due to increased demand (mainly due to
increased incentives and subsidies) and silicon shortages. The
silicon shortage is expected to persist until at least 2008.
With many jurisdictions now giving tax and rebate incentives,
and/or net metering solar electric power can now pay for
itself in ten to twenty years in a few places.
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