Basics of Solar Photovoltaic Technology

What is solar energy technology, and how does it operate? Solar energy is converted into electrical energy using PV materials and equipment. A PV device is referred to as a cell. A single photovoltaic cell is normally tiny, with a power output of only one or two watts. These cells are frequently thinner than four human hairs and are composed of various semiconductor materials. Cells are encased in a mix of glass and/or plastics to provide protection from the elements for an extended period of time.

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PV cells are linked in chains to create bigger units called modules or panels, which increase the power output of the individual cells. Modules can be used singly or in combinations to create arrays. The PV system as a whole is subsequently completed by connecting one or more arrays to the power grid. PV systems may be designed to accommodate practically any size of electric power requirement because to their modular design.

A PV system’s modules and arrays are only one component. Systems also include of mounting frameworks for the solar-powered panels and the parts that transform the direct-current (DC) electricity generated by the modules into the alternating-current (AC) electricity needed to run all the appliances in your house.

California is home to the biggest photovoltaic systems in the nation, which generate electricity that utilities then sell to their clients. The Topaz Solar Farm and Desert Sunlight Solar Farm each generate 550 megawatts of energy, while the Solar Star PV power station generates 579 megawatts.

Basics of Solar Photovoltaic Cells

A photovoltaic (PV) cell, sometimes referred to as a solar cell, can absorb, reflect, or let light flow straight through it. Since semiconductor material makes up the PV cell, it can conduct electricity more effectively than an insulator but not as effectively as a metal, which is a superior conductor of electricity. PV cells are made of a variety of semiconductor materials.

The semiconductor absorbs light energy and converts it to electrons, which are negatively charged particles found in the material. The electrons can go through the material as an electrical current thanks to this additional energy. The grid-like lines on solar cells, or conductive metal contacts, are where this electricity is collected and utilized to power the rest of the electric grid and your house.

A photovoltaic cell’s efficiency may be defined as the difference between the electrical power it produces and the energy it receives from the light it receives. This ratio shows how well the cell converts energy from one form to another. PV cell production capacity is determined by a number of cell performance parameters as well as the properties (such as wavelengths and intensity) of the available light.

The bandgap of photovoltaic semiconductors is a crucial characteristic that describes the range of light wavelengths that the material can absorb and transform into electrical energy. The PV cell can effectively use all of the available energy if the semiconductor’s bandgap matches the wavelengths of light shining on it.


Silicon makes up over 95% of the solar modules that are now on the market, making it the most widely utilized semiconductor in solar cells. In addition, it is the most prevalent semiconductor used in computer circuits and the second most plentiful mineral on Earth (after oxygen). A crystal lattice formed of silicon atoms is what crystalline silicon cells are composed of. This lattice offers a structured framework that improves the efficiency of turning light into power.

Currently, silicon-based solar cells have a long lifespan, great efficiency, and low cost. It is anticipated that modules will continue to produce over 80% of their initial power for at least 25 years beyond that point.


One or more thin layers of PV material are deposited on a supporting material, such as glass, plastic, or metal, to create a thin-film solar cell. Today’s thin-film photovoltaic (PV) semiconductors come in two primary varieties: CdTe (cadmium telluride) and CIGS (copper indium gallium diselenide). One can directly put the materials onto the front or rear surface of the module.

After silicon, cadmium tellurium (CdTe) is the most widely used PV material. Low-cost production techniques may be employed to create CdTe cells. Their efficiencies are still not as great as silicon’s, but they are still a more affordable option. In the lab, CIGS cells exhibit excellent efficiency and ideal characteristics for a PV material; nevertheless, the process of integrating four components is intricate, which complicates the transfer from laboratory to production. For extended outdoor operation, CdTe and CIGS both need greater protection than silicon.


Thin-film solar cells, or perovskite solar cells, get their name from the peculiar crystal structure of these cells. The substrate is the underlying support layer on which layers of materials are printed, coated, or vacuum-deposited to create perovskite cells. They can achieve efficiency comparable to crystalline silicon and are generally simple to construct. Perovskite solar cells’ efficiency increased in the lab more quickly than those of any other PV material, going from 3% in 2009 to over 25% in 2020. Researchers are focusing on making perovskite PV cells more robust and creating large-scale, low-cost production procedures since these cells need to become stable enough to withstand 20 years outdoors in order to be economically viable.


Composed of carbon-rich (organic) molecules, organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells can be engineered to improve a particular PV cell function, including bandgap, transparency, or color. Although OPV cells have shorter operational lives and are now only about half as efficient as crystalline silicon cells, they may be less expensive to produce in large quantities. Moreover, they may be applied to a range of supporting materials, including flexible plastic, which expands the range of applications for OPV.


Quantum dots, which are minuscule particles of various semiconductor materials only a few nanometers broad, are what allow quantum dot solar cells to carry electricity. Although quantum dots provide a novel approach to the processing of semiconductor materials, their current state of inefficiency stems from the challenge of establishing an electrical link between them. Still, it’s not hard to turn them into solar cells. They can be applied to a substrate by spraying, roll-to-roll printing, or the spin-coat technique, which is similar to printing newspapers.

Because of their variable bandgap and range of sizes, quantum dots may be used with other semiconductors, such as perovskites, to enhance the performance of multijunction solar cells and catch light that is otherwise difficult to capture (more on those below).