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Solar Photovoltaic Panels

The Basics

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 solar cell.

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.

Current development

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 building.

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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This Information was taken from Wikipedia under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licence.

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