What is Solar PV?
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 silicon1. In 2011, about 95% of all shipments by U.S. manufacturers to the residential sector were crystalline silicon solar panels2.
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.
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 demand3.
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 decline4 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.
Recent blog posts about Solar PV
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INTERNATIONAL OR PROMINENT INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS
HISTORY OF SOLAR PV
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
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
ScienceDirect – Towards cleaner solar PV: Environmental and health impacts
California Energy Commision – Potential Health and Environmental Impacts
SUSTAINABILITY OF SOLAR PV
eTool Global – The full cycle: How sustainable is solar PV
Williams College – Solar PV
Continuity and Resilience – Sustainability: Solar PV
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