AskDefine | Define photovoltaic

Dictionary Definition

photovoltaic adj : producing a voltage when exposed to radiant energy (especially light)

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. producing a voltage when exposed to light


Extensive Definition

Photovoltaics, or PV for short, is a technology that converts light directly into electricity. Photovoltaics is also the field of study relating to this technology and there are many research institutes devoted to work on photovoltaics. Due to the growing need for solar energy, the manufacture of solar cells and solar photovoltaic array has expanded dramatically in recent years. Photovoltaic production has been doubling every two years, increasing by an average of 48 percent each year since 2002, making it the world’s fastest-growing energy technology. At the end of 2007, according to preliminary data, cumulative global production was 12,400 megawatts. Roughly 90% of this generating capacity consists of grid-tied electrical systems. Such installations may be ground-mounted (and sometimes integrated with farming and grazing) or built into the roof or walls of a building, known as Building Integrated Photovoltaic or BIPV for short. Financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity and net metering, have supported solar PV installations in many countries including Germany, Japan, and the United States.


Photovoltaics is best known as a method for generating solar power by using solar cells packaged in photovoltaic modules, often electrically connected in multiples as solar photovoltaic arrays to convert energy from the sun into electricity. To explain the photovoltaic solar panel more simply, photons from sunlight knock electrons into a higher state of energy, creating electricity.
Photovoltaics can refer to the field of study relating to this technology, and the term photovoltaic denotes the unbiased operating mode of a photodiode in which current through the device is entirely due to the transduced light energy. Virtually all photovoltaic devices are some type of photodiode.
Solar cells produce direct current electricity from light, which can be used to power equipment or to recharge a battery. The first practical application of photovoltaics was to power orbiting satellites and other spacecraft and pocket calculators, but today the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid connected power generation. In this case an inverter is required to convert the DC to AC. There is a smaller market for off grid power for remote dwellings, roadside emergency telephones, remote sensing, and cathodic protection of pipelines.
Cells require protection from the environment and are packaged usually behind a glass sheet. When more power is required than a single cell can deliver, cells are electrically connected together to form photovoltaic modules, or solar panels. A single module is enough to power an emergency telephone, but for a house or a power plant the modules must be arranged in arrays. Although the selling price of modules is still too high to compete with grid electricity in most places, significant financial incentives in Japan and then Germany triggered a huge growth in demand, followed quickly by production.

Current development

The most important issue with solar panels is capital cost (installation and materials). Newer alternatives to standard crystalline silicon modules including casting wafers instead of sawing, thin film (CdTe CIGS, amorphous Si, microcrystalline Si), concentrator modules, 'Sliver' cells, and continuous printing processes. Due to economies of scale solar panels get less costly as people use and buy more — as manufacturers increase production to meet demand, the cost and price is expected to drop in the years to come. As of early 2006, the average cost per installed watt for a residential sized system was about USD 6.50 to USD 7.50, including panels, inverters, mounts, and electrical items. In 2006 investors began offering free solar panel installation in return for a 25 year contract to purchase electricity at a fixed price, normally set at or below current electric rates.

Worldwide installed photovoltaic totals

World solar photovoltaic (PV) market installations reached a record high of 2,826 Megawatts peak (MWp) in 2007.
The three leading countries (Germany, Japan and the USA) represent nearly 89% of the total worldwide PV installed capacity. On Wed 01 Aug 2007, word was published of construction of a production facility in China, which is projected to be one of the largest wafer factories in the world, with an annual capacity of around 1,500MW.
Germany was the fastest growing major PV market in the world during 2006 and 2007. In 2007, over 1.3 GWp of PV was installed. The German PV industry generates over 10,000 jobs in production, distribution and installation. By the end of 2006, nearly 88% of all solar PV installations in the EU were in grid-tied applications in Germany. The balance is off-grid (or stand alone) systems. Photovoltaic power capacity is measured as maximum power output under standardized test conditions (STC) in "Wp" (Watts peak). The actual power output at a particular point in time may be less than or greater than this standardized, or "rated," value, depending on geographical location, time of day, weather conditions, and other factors. Solar photovoltaic array capacity factors are typically under 25%, which is lower than many other industrial sources of electricity. Therefore the 2007 installed base peak output would have provided an average output of 1.7 GW (assuming 20% × 8,688 MWp). This represented 0.0894 percent of global demand at the time.
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