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Solar Energy and Photovoltaics

Solar Energy Topics by Editors

New Uses for Solar Energy at Home
» Read more about Solar Energy.

Passive Solar with Photovoltaics - How does it work?
» Read more about Solar Energy.

Photovoltaics - How Sunlight is Transformed
» Read more about Solar Energy.

Going Green Ideas: Financial Incentives for Solar
» Read more about Solar Energy.

Glossary: Solar Energy and Photovoltaics
» Read more about Solar Energy.

Solar Energy Basics

Photovoltaic Array
Photovoltaic Array

Anyone looking for ideas or resources for going green will consider solar energy.

The calculator on your desk probably has a small solar cell powering it. Many street signs, bus stops and billboards have solar panels to light them up at night. They may range from a few square inches in size to 50 square feet or more.

Photovoltaic is the word used to generally describe the process. The word "photovoltaic" is derived from photo, meaning light and voltaic meaning electricity.

There are people like Al Gore, author of "An Inconvenient Truth" and T. Boone Pickens behind who detail the potential of using solar energy to provide electricity to every home in America one day.

Photovoltaic cells are made from materials called semiconductors, usually silicon. When the energy of the sun hits the PV cells and is absorbed by the semiconductors the sun's energy becomes a current of electrons. Metal contacts are placed above and below the PV cell and then a current is created that can be used to run electrical devices.

Photovoltaic cells laminated to a skylight
Photovoltaic cells laminated to a skylight

There is much more to the process of course. One of the key decisions to make is whether or not you will use tracking or non-tracking photovoltaic panels. Essentially the tracking version will be on a mechanized device that allows the photovoltaic panels to follow the sun. Panels installed on a roof would be considered non-tracking as their position is fixed.

If you were to have a roof system then the current from the photovoltaic panel would have to flow to a Charge Controller and that would feed either Direct Current (DC) needs or to Batteries. From Batteries current goes to an Inverter to be transformed to Alternating Current (AC) which typically operates most household devices.

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