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How is Solar Energy Converted to Electricity. Solar photovoltaic conversion

How is Solar Energy Converted to Electricity. Solar photovoltaic conversion

    solar, energy, converted, electricity, photovoltaic

    How is Solar Energy Converted to Electricity?

    Alora Bopray is a digital content producer for the home warranty, HVAC, and plumbing categories at Today’s Homeowner. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of St. Scholastica and her master’s degree from the University of Denver. Before becoming a writer for Today’s Homeowner, Alora wrote as a freelance writer for dozens of home improvement clients and informed homeowners about the solar industry as a writer for EcoWatch. When she’s not writing, Alora can be found planning her next DIY home improvement project or plotting her next novel.

    Roxanne Downer is a commerce editor at Today’s Homeowner, where she tackles everything from foundation repair to solar panel installation. She brings more than 15 years of writing and editing experience to bear in her meticulous approach to ensuring accurate, up-to-date, and engaging content. She’s previously edited for outlets including MSN, Architectural Digest, and Better Homes Gardens. An alumna of the University of Pennsylvania, Roxanne is now an Oklahoma homeowner, DIY enthusiast, and the proud parent of a playful pug.

    April 26, 2023 December 6, 2022

    Exploring the science behind photovoltaics

    Solar panels convert light into electricity. It’s a complex process that involves physics, chemistry, and electrical engineering. With solar panels becoming an increasingly important part of the push against fossil fuels, it’s vital to learn just how a solar panel converts sunlight into usable energy. Interestingly enough, the same concepts that allow solar panels to power our homes are also driving the technological revolution. The secret lies in the silicon wafer, the building block of modern electronics.

    To put it simply, sunlight strikes the panel and excites electrons in the silicon crystal. The photons give the electrons enough energy to move freely through the silicon. The silicon wafer is infused with impurities to create a natural electric field, which directs the movement of the electrons. Metal gridlines on the solar cell capture the electrical energy and transport it towards your inverter, then into your home.

    What Is Energy?

    We need energy to do work. Whether it’s to move our bodies, grow our crops, or power our homes, energy powers our world. Energy can take several forms, including light, motion, electricity, chemical reactions, and heat. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only change form. This is inherent to the problem of the needs of humanity, as energy itself is abundant but often doesn’t exist in a form that can be directly applied.

    When we install solar panels, we are harnessing light energy from the sun. When the light strikes the surface of the semiconductor material, a reaction takes place, which converts the light energy into electrical energy. But since solar panels aren’t 100% efficient, some of this light energy becomes heat.

    Once the energy is converted to electricity, metal gridlines on the panel carry the electricity out of the panel and toward your battery storage. The energy is then converted into chemical energy, where it is stored until it’s ready to be converted back to electricity for domestic use.

    The Photovoltaic Effect

    The photovoltaic effect is what allows sunlight to be captured and converted into electrical energy. The phenomenon was discovered by French physicist Edmond Becquerel in 1839 when he was experimenting in his father’s laboratory with platinum electrodes in an electrolyte solution. He noticed that when light was shined on the solution, the electric current was enhanced. The first rooftop solar array followed soon after.

    Light is made of photons, which carry energy. The energy in a photon is proportional to the frequency of light. The photovoltaic effect is triggered when photons strike a photoelectric surface, which absorbs the photon’s energy and excites electrons within the material. An electric current is created when enough electrons are stimulated. Depending on the material, the frequency necessary to trigger the effect can vary. In photovoltaic solar panels, semiconductors are the photoelectric medium used to convert sunlight to electricity.


    A semiconductor is a material that conducts electricity more than an insulator, like glass or wood, but less than a conductor, like copper or gold. The conductivity of semiconductors can be altered via doping, or the addition of impurities, to reach a conduction value that suits the needs of a particular application. They can be found in computers, cars, smartphones, and home appliances. Silicon is the most common semiconductor, usually taking the form of silicon wafers. The advent of crystallized silicon was the main driver of the digital revolution of the past 50 years, hence the use of the term Silicon Valley to refer to the Bay Area, home to the world’s largest tech companies.

    The wafers can be positively doped (p-type) or negatively doped (n-type). A p-type and n-type can even exist within the same crystal, which is the case with PV panels. The p-type has atoms that lack an electron, called electron holes, where the n-type has atoms that have an excess of electrons. The electrons and holes are collectively known as charge carriers. The two meet in a boundary layer within the crystal, which is called the p-n junction.

    The crystal structure of silicon wafers is integral to its function. In the crystal lattice, the electrons are bound in place, unable to move freely. When an input of energy excites the electrons to sufficient energy levels, they’re able to break free and move throughout the lattice structure. The electrons then diffuse through the p-n junction, filling in the electron holes and neutralizing both charge carriers. This creates an area of neutral material called the depletion zone. Eventually, the movement towards the p-n junction reaches a state of equilibrium, and an electric field forms around the depletion zone. The n-side boundary becomes positively charged, and the p-side boundary becomes negatively charged, creating a force that acts opposite to the movement toward the p-n junction. This stops the flow of electrons across the p-n junction, and the wafer remains in this equilibrium state until the energy level in the system changes.

    Semiconductors are limited by their Band gap, an energy range where the movement of electrons won’t occur. The light energy striking the surface of the solar panel must be above the Band gap of the semiconductor, or else no electricity will be produced.

    Just as in electronics, silicon is the most common semiconductor for solar panels. Silicon panels come in three types:

    Several other types of semiconductors are used in the PV industry, though they tend to be less common. A few types are listed below.

    solar, energy, converted, electricity, photovoltaic
    • Cadmium Telluride (CdTe)
    • Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS)
    • Gallium Arsenide (GaAs)

    Although this article focuses on the working mechanism behind silicon solar panels, most semiconductors work on the same principles.

    Sunlight to Electricity

    Now that we’ve explored the various concepts and processes that allow your solar panels to generate electricity, let’s take a closer look at what actually happens inside your PV array.

    You wake up in the morning, and the sun rises above the horizon. As you begin your morning routine, sunlight washes over your roof, bringing energy to your home. The sun has a broad energy spectrum and emits photons over a large range of energy values. Remember that PV semiconductors have a Band gap, and the photons striking the surface of your panels must be above the Band gap in order to stimulate the conductivity of the material.

    One of three things can happen when a photon interacts with your solar panel:

    • The photons might be reflected off the surface of the panel.
    • If the photon’s energy level is below the Band gap, it will pass right through the panel.
    • If the photon’s energy level is at or above the Band gap, it will interact with the semiconductor.

    The architecture of the solar cell plays an essential role in the movement of electrons. The n-doped layer is very thin and is placed directly under the glass, on top of the much thicker p-doped layer. This means the sunlight penetrates the n-side and reaches the p-n junction. The increased thickness of the p-side also creates a much larger depletion zone than if the two were equal in size. The energy from the photons is transferred to the electrons, giving them the energy to move across the depletion zone and into the p-side. The electrons recombine with the electron holes on the p-side, while the sunlight perpetually stimulates new electron-hole pairs in the depletion zone. This constant movement is the source of the electric current. The silicon remains in this electrically charged state as long as the sun is striking the panel. When the sun goes down, the silicon returns to its equilibrium state, and the depletion zone returns to its original width.

    Whereas the depletion zone prevented an electric current from being generated, the energy input from sunlight gave the charge carriers enough energy to overcome the neutral layer. Since many of the photons that interact with the silicon have energy values higher than the Band gap, the excess energy is dissipated as heat.

    With the electrons free to move through the silicon, all that’s needed is a path for the electrical energy to make its way out of the panel. Each solar cell has two sets of metal gridlines connected to its surface, called fingers and busbars. The electricity is collected in the fingers, which are the very thin set of metal gridlines that run up and down the solar cell. The fingers route the electricity to the busbars, which run perpendicular to the fingers. The busbars are much thicker than the fingers, and most solar cells have two busbars spanning the length of the cell.

    The busbars are connected via copper wires to the back of the next solar cell, and they are wired in series to each other, generating electricity and running it down the sequence of cells. Several series of cells are then wired parallel to each other, forming a solar panel. The solar panel is then wired to several other panels, creating a solar array.

    The photovoltaic processes generate a direct current, so an inverter is needed to convert the DC power to AC power. The electricity is then stored in a battery, where the energy is stored as chemical bonds until it is ready to be discharged.


    While humanity has been harnessing the sun’s energy as heat for centuries, solar PV has allowed us to directly capitalize on the sun’s rays. Although the technology has been slow to take off, the idea of harnessing sunlight for energy has revolutionized the energy industry. The prospect of ditching fossil fuels for the limitless energy from the sun has changed how we look at electricity. Photovoltaic panels draw upon the unique properties of silicon semiconductors to convert light energy to electrical energy. The physical and chemical properties of crystallized silicon allow the material to react to light in a way that it generates an electric charge. Metal gridlines carry the electrical energy out of the panel and toward your home. It’s a complex process, one that can potentially bring energy to sun-washed cities all over the globe.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How does a solar panel generate electricity?

    Solar panels contain layers of crystallized silicon wafers that are positively and negatively charged, which create an electric field. When sunlight strikes the panel, the photons knock the electrons out of the crystal lattice and give them enough energy to move freely. They are drawn to the positively charged side of the crystal, creating an electric current.

    Why are semiconductors used in solar panels?

    Semiconductors have interesting properties that allow them to change their conductivity by changing the energy level of their system, such as when light strikes its surface. They can be doped, or injected with impurities, to suit a particular application. This makes them highly versatile not only for photovoltaics, but also for microprocessors and circuit boards.

    What is doping?

    Doping is the addition of impurities into the silicon crystal. In PV panels, the silicon is doped to make one side of the wafer positively charged (p-type) and the other side negatively charged (n-type). This creates an electric field that drives the motion of the electrons when light strikes the panel’s surface.

    Why do solar panels have metal gridlines?

    The metal gridlines on a PV panel serve to capture and transport the electric current out of the solar cell and towards your home. The smaller metal contacts are called fingers, and they capture the electricity directly from the solar cell. The fingers carry the current to the busbars, two metal lines that cut across the solar cell perpendicular to the fingers. The busbars carry the electricity out of the solar cell and towards the inverter.

    Alora Bopray is a digital content producer for the home warranty, HVAC, and plumbing categories at Today’s Homeowner. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of St. Scholastica and her master’s degree from the University of Denver. Before becoming a writer for Today’s Homeowner, Alora wrote as a freelance writer for dozens of home improvement clients and informed homeowners about the solar industry as a writer for EcoWatch. When she’s not writing, Alora can be found planning her next DIY home improvement project or plotting her next novel.

    Roxanne Downer is a commerce editor at Today’s Homeowner, where she tackles everything from foundation repair to solar panel installation. She brings more than 15 years of writing and editing experience to bear in her meticulous approach to ensuring accurate, up-to-date, and engaging content. She’s previously edited for outlets including MSN, Architectural Digest, and Better Homes Gardens. An alumna of the University of Pennsylvania, Roxanne is now an Oklahoma homeowner, DIY enthusiast, and the proud parent of a playful pug.

    Technologies, Applications and Environmental Impacts

    1st Edition. July 17, 2020

    Editors: Shiva Gorjian, Ashish Shukla

    Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conversion. Technologies, Applications and Environmental Impacts features comprehensive and up-to-date knowledge on the photovoltaic solar energy… Read more

    Save 50% on book bundles

    Immediately download your ebook while waiting for your print delivery. No promo code is needed.

    Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conversion. Technologies, Applications and Environmental Impacts features comprehensive and up-to-date knowledge on the photovoltaic solar energy conversion technology and describes its different aspects in the context of most recent scientific and technological advances. It also provides an insight into future developments in this field by covering four distinct topics include PV Cells and Modules, Applications of PV Systems, Life Cycle and Environmental Impacts and PV Market and Policies.

    • An up-to-date reference book on the advances of photovoltaic solar energy conversion technology
    • Describes different aspects of PV and PVT technologies in a comprehensive way
    • Provides information on design, development, and monitoring of PV systems
    • Covers applications of PV and PVT systems in the urban, industry, and agriculture sectors
    • Features new concepts, environmental impacts, market and policies of the PV technology

    Engineers, practitioners in industry and researchers working on the advancement and application of solar photovoltaics

    Shiva Gorjian, Hossein Ebadi

    Chapter 2: Solar cell technologies 27

    Geetam Richhariya, Anil Kumar, Samsher

    Chapter 3: Solar PV module technologies 51

    Nallapaneni Manoj Kumar, Shauhrat S. Chopra, Aline Kirsten Vidal de Oliveira, Hamsa Ahmed, Shima Vaezi, Uzoma Edward Madukanya, Juan M. Castanon

    Chapter 4: Solar photovoltaic thermal (PVT) module technologies 79

    Mahdi Shakouri, Hossein Ebadi, Shiva Gorjian

    Chapter 5: Solar PV systems design and monitoring

    Mohammadreza Aghaei, Nallapaneni Manoj Kumar, Aref Eskandari, Hamsa Ahmed, Aline Kirsten Vidal de Oliveira, Shauhrat S. Chopra

    Chapter 6: On-farm applications of solar PV systems 147

    Shiva Gorjian, Renu Singh, Ashish Shukla, Abdur Rehman Mazhar

    Chapter 7: Applications of solar PV systems in agricultural automation and robotics

    Shiva Gorjian, Saeid Minaei, Ladan MalehMirchegini, Max Trommsdorff, Redmond R. Shamshiri

    Chapter 8: Applications of solar PV systems in desalination technologies

    Shiva Gorjian, Barat Ghobadian, Hossein Ebadi, Faezeh Ketabchi, Saber Khanmohammadi

    Chapter 9: Applications of solar PV systems in hydrogen production

    Francesco Calise, Francesco Liberato Cappiello, Maria Vicidomini

    Chapter 10: Solar PV power plants

    Mohammadreza Aghaei, Aref Eskandari, Shima Vaezi, Shauhrat S. Chopra

    Chapter 11: New concepts and applications of solar PV systems

    Mohammadreza Aghaei, Hossein Ebadi, Aline Kirsten Vidal de Oliveira, Shima Vaezi, Aref Eskandari, Juan M. Castanon

    Chapter 12: Life cycle assessment and environmental impacts of solar PV systems

    Nallapaneni Manoj Kumar, Shauhrat S. Chopra, Pramod Rajput

    Chapter 13: Solar PV market and policies

    Hyun Jin Julie Yu, Patrice Geoffron

    Shiva Gorjian

    Dr. Shiva Gorjian is an associate professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, and the Department of Renewable Energy, Faculty of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, at Tarbiat Modares University (TMU), Tehran, Iran. She received her PhD in mechanics of biosystems engineering from TMU in 2014. She is the editor of the book Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conversion: Technologies, Applications, and Environmental Impacts (Elsevier, 2020). Her main research area is renewable energy applications in agriculture (AgroRenewables). She has been the lead guest editor of a special issue on the same theme in the Journal of Sustainable Energy Technologies and Assessments (Elsevier) in 2021. Dr. Gorjian’s research interests include solar photovoltaics, solar desalination technologies, hybrid PVT systems, energy and exergy analysis, and modeling and simulation of renewable energy systems.

    Associate Professor, Department of Biosystems Engineering, Faculty of Agriculture, and the Department of Renewable Energy, Faculty of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, Tarbiat Modares University (TMU), Tehran, Iran.

    Ashish Shukla

    Dr. Ashish Shukla received his PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He was awarded a prestigious FCS fellowship to work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, in the Department of Architecture. Currently, he is an assistant professor of building engineering physics at Coventry University in the United Kingdom (UK). He is a prominent building physicist and a sustainability expert. His research interests are building engineering physics, energy management, energy-generating building envelopes, and energy storage. His vision is to design self-evolving climate-responsive sustainable buildings through integrated building design to bring new low-carbon innovations to onsite construction practice. He is also a fellow member of the Higher Education Academy in the UK.

    Centre for Built and Natural Environment, Faculty of Engineering, Environment and Computing, Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom

    solar, energy, converted, electricity, photovoltaic

    Solar Energy Conversion: The Beginner’s Guide

    Akshay VR. 12 Feb 2022

    Achieving carbon neutrality has become a tough challenge and task for global civilization in the battle against climate change. Meanwhile, this is a fantastic chance for decarbonization, climate risk mitigation, and to accelerate the transition to a renewable energy future. Hopefully, a plethora of future-oriented dark technologies will quickly arise and expand. Solar energy conversion goods, in particular, have entered current life and have become a vital critical link in the low-carbon cycle and green growth. A great deal of work has gone into constructing a comprehensive sustainable system based on solar energy conversion, and it is widely agreed that developing advanced materials is the foundation for achieving high-efficiency, low-cost solar energy conversion, and usage.

    Solar energy conversion systems based on silicon-based semiconductors have been widely employed all over the world in recent years, and photovoltaic and artificial photosynthetic systems using conventional materials and architectures have grown increasingly mature. However, because of the significant pollution created by crystalline silicon modules during the manufacturing process, as well as the relatively poor theoretical conversion efficiency of silicon-based semiconductors, a number of unique photovoltaic materials and technologies have been proposed. Organic and perovskite solar cells, in particular, have gotten a lot of interest. Since the solar spectrum’s receptive range expanded from ultraviolet to visible around the turn of the century, the sun’s photosynthetic activities have piqued the interest of researchers in physics, chemistry, materials, and energy. Because of the ongoing development of catalytic theory, the rising number of material systems, the increase in quantum efficiency, and the expansion of the application range, photosynthesis has become a major area of catalytic chemistry and energy materials.

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    Principle of Solar Energy Conversion:

    The sun emits a massive amount of radiation. Sun radiation may be transformed into various types of energy using a variety of techniques. Sun radiation may be directly converted to electricity, transformed to heat, and used in biochemical activities. It can also be used directly for tanning if the risks are understood. The photovoltaic (PV) effect allows sunlight to be directly transformed into energy in solar cells. PV conversion will only occur in a device that exhibits two required characteristics,

    First, a solar cell must collect solar radiation and convert the heat energy of the sun into chemical energy within the device. When light is absorbed, electrons are stimulated to higher energy levels, allowing chemical energy to be temporarily stored. In an electrical potential, excited electrons act as charge carriers (current).

    Second, the electrical resistance of a solar cell must be asymmetric. This creates an electric potential (voltage) across a device under solar light, which is determined by the chemical energy stored in the electron population. A solar cell can provide meaningful electrical work to load resistance in this way.

    Types of Solar Energy Conversion:

    The Photovoltaic Effect: One of the most common types of solar energy conversion is the direct generation of electricity. The photovoltaic effect is a method of converting daylight radiation (photons, light particles) directly into electricity (electrons, electricity particles). Solar panels are widely utilized in both households and utility-scale power plants to generate solar energy. Corporations and research institutions are looking into better ways to generate more cost-effective solar panels. To get a higher output of power, large electrical power plants employ mirrors or lenses to FOCUS more solar radiation on solar panels. The sun is tracked by the mirrors (or lenses) as it moves across the sky.

    Solar Thermal: The greenhouse effect uses solar radiation to convert solar radiation into thermal energy (heating water or air). Sunlight of a visible wavelength passes through a transparent layer (glass or plastic) before being absorbed and heated by a black layer (black-coated material). The absorbed energy in the infrared wavelengths (what we humans perceive as heat) is directed toward the glass layer by the black sheet absorber. However, because glass is not infrared transparent, the heat is stored and can be transferred to water or air.

    Solar thermal principles are employed in solar hot water heaters, solar pool heaters, and solar space heating for residential energy applications. Solar energy is used to produce steam, which is used to drive steam electrical generators at high temperatures and pressures.

    Utility Scale Power Plants: Solar power generators for home use are generally under 5 kW. Solar power generators in public buildings (schools, public, and government offices) and corporate offices are typically under 50 kW. Solar electric panels with a capacity of up to 50 kW are the market leaders. Solar plants with an output power ranging from 100 kW to 1 MW are common in communities that generate their own electricity, and they are usually paired with wind turbines and small steam turbines.

    Solar energy is used in utility-scale power plants in the form of optical concentrated solar (photoelectric technology) or heliostats. Heliostats are sun-tracking mirrors that reflect sunlight onto a central collector. Heliostats are often constructed in a circular pattern around a tower. The collector is positioned on the tower and produces high-temperature, high-pressure steam, which is used to power a steam turbine.

    Result of solar energy conversion:

    Electricity production:

    Solar cells can directly convert solar energy into electricity (photovoltaic cells). When light contacts the junction between a metal and a semiconductor (such as silicon) or the junction between two separate semiconductors, a tiny electric potential is created. A single solar cell generally produces only approximately two watts of electricity. Hundreds or even thousands of kilowatts of electricity may be created in a solar electric plant or a big domestic array by connecting vast numbers of individual cells together, as in solar-panel arrays. Most modern photovoltaic cells have an energy efficiency of only 15 to 20%, and because the intensity of solar radiation is low, to begin with, massive and costly assemblies of such cells are required to generate even small amounts of electricity.

    Small photovoltaic cells that run on sunshine or artificial light have found widespread usage in low-power applications such as calculators and watches. Larger units have been used to power distant water pumps and communications equipment, as well as weather and communications satellites. Traditional crystalline silicon panels and developing thin-film solar cell technologies, such as building-integrated photovoltaics, maybe put on roofs by homes and businesses to replace or supplement traditional power supplies.

    Concentrated solar power plants use concentrating, or focusing, collectors to FOCUS sunlight from a large area onto a tiny blackened receiver, significantly increasing the light’s intensity and producing high temperatures. Arrays of well-aligned mirrors or lenses can concentrate enough sunlight to heat a subject to temperatures of 2,000 degrees Celsius (3,600 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher. This heat may then be utilized to power a boiler, which creates steam for a power plant powered by a steam turbine electric generator. For direct steam production, the moveable mirrors may be set to FOCUS huge volumes of solar energy onto blackened pipes through which water is pumped and thereby heated.

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    Thermal Energy:

    The heat absorbed by the sun is both intense and radioactive. The sun bombards the Earth with billions of charged nanoparticles that contain enormous amounts of energy. This heat may be utilized to heat water, heat a room, cool a room or generate process heat. Many steam-generating systems have evolved to use sunlight as a major source of heating feed water, which has considerably boosted the overall efficiency of boilers and many other kinds of waste heat recovery systems. Solar cookers cook, dry, and pasteurize using sunshine. Solar distillation is utilized in water treatment operations to provide clean drinking water, and it has been an immensely important participant in delivering relief efforts to nations in need by using growing technology.

    The goal of solar thermal technology is to convert incoming solar energy into useful heat. Solar heat conversion requires the use of energy collectors, which are specifically built mirrors, lenses, and heat exchangers that concentrate the radiant energy from the sun and transfer it to a carrier fluid. The fluid heats up as it goes through the solar collector. Water/steam, oil, or molten salt are common heat transport fluids. The fluid is then delivered to the heat engine, which converts heat to electricity.

    Economic Development:

    The conversion of solar energy has the potential to be a highly cost-effective technique. It is less expensive than non-conventional energy sources. Solar energy applications serve to boost employment and the growth of the transportation and agricultural sectors. Due to economic factors, solar systems are becoming less expensive and more widely accessible in nations where energy demand is high but supply is limited. A 1 GW solar power station can generate about ten times the amount of energy as a fossil fuel combustion power plant that would cost twice as much to build. Solar power plants are expected to be the industry’s leader in energy generation by 2050.

    Rural Energy Access:

    Solar energy conversion has the potential to have a wide range of beneficial societal consequences, particularly in rural communities that previously lacked grid-based electricity access. Solar-electric conversion is the fastest increasing source of energy acquisition in many off-grid settings. This is particularly true at latitudes 45° north or south of the Equator, where solar irradiation is more consistent throughout the year and the majority of the developing world’s population resides. From a health standpoint, solar home systems can replace kerosene lamps (commonly found in rural areas), which can cause fires and emit pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) that degrade air quality, impair lung function and increase the risk of tuberculosis, asthma, and cancer. Solar energy availability has been found in such places to save rural households the time and money required to acquire and transport kerosene, enhancing productivity and prolonging business hours.

    These communities obtain energy independence, which means they are no longer dependent on a third-party electrical supplier, in addition to energy availability. The notion of energy independence is very new; during the overwhelming majority of the twentieth century, energy evaluations were primarily technical or financial in nature, with little consideration for social consequences. According to research from the 1980s, access to renewable energy would encourage principles that would benefit society as a whole rather than just individuals. While some scholars claim that historically, individuals in control of energy sources have created societal hierarchies, this sort of study has become less radical and more popular with the emergence of technology that permits solar energy conversion.

    Community Solar:

    Solar energy conversion may have an influence on whole communities as well as individual consumers. The traditional paradigm of independent, non-connected rooftop installations is being supplanted by community-sized solar microgrids in an increasing number of areas throughout America. The concept of community solar originally gained popularity as a result of energy storage concerns. Because the widespread production of lithium-ion batteries and other storage technologies lags behind the progress of rooftop PV installations as of 2018, a major barrier to a nationwide shift to rooftop solar energy generation is the lack of a dependable, single-home storage system that would provide contingencies for night-time energy use, Cloud cover, curtailments, and blackouts. Furthermore, because of the smaller project scope and lack of cash flow, financing solar systems for single-family houses may be more difficult to achieve. A feasible alternative is to link blocks of houses in a community microgrid, which uses more proven large-scale storage systems, decreasing obstacles to solar adoption. A microgrid web is created in certain situations by linking each autonomous rooftop PV home to a larger storage facility. Other ideas, particularly when rooftop installations are not feasible, include a big combined solar array and a storage facility on a neighboring field. This kind of installation also has a social effect by making solar energy economically feasible for multi-family houses and traditionally low-income communities.

    Grid Defection:

    A possible socioeconomic disadvantage of solar energy conversion is that it threatens the business paradigm of electric utilities. The economic sustainability of regional monopoly utilities in the United States is predicated on a massive aggregation of local consumers who balance out each other’s changing loads. As a result, the extensive installation of rooftop solar systems that are not linked to the grid endangers the stability of the utility market. Grid Defection is the name given to this phenomenon. The strain on utilities is worsened by old grid infrastructure that has failed to adjust to the new difficulties brought by renewable energy (mainly regarding inertia, reverse power flow, and relay protection schemes). However, other experts argue that, with the increasing frequency of natural catastrophes (which destroy key grid infrastructure), solar microgrid construction may be required to assure emergency electricity supply. This FOCUS on disaster preparedness has greatly boosted the off-grid energy sector in recent years, particularly in places prone to natural catastrophes.

    Environmental Impacts:

    Installations may disrupt and/or move natural ecosystems by covering huge tracts of land and increasing habitat fragmentation. Solar installations erected on Native American reservations have disturbed traditional customs and have also had a harmful influence on the surrounding ecosphere.

    The Sun has vast untapped potential to meet our ever-increasing energy demands. The high cost of solar energy in comparison to the cost of fossil fuels is a barrier to broader usage. However, this discrepancy will narrow as the cost of fossil fuels rises, as will the expense of mitigating their effect on the environment and climate. The cost of solar energy is directly proportional to the poor conversion efficiency, the low energy density of solar radiation, and the currently necessary expensive materials. The development of materials and ways to increase solar energy conversion is largely a scientific challenge; basic knowledge breakthroughs should allow for significant advancement. There is lots of potential for development since photovoltaic conversion efficiencies for affordable organic and dye-sensitized solar cells are now about 10% or less, the photosynthetic conversion efficiency is less than 1%, and the highest solar thermal efficiency is 30%. The theoretical limitations imply that we can do a lot better.

    Solar conversion is a relatively new science. Its Rapid expansion started in the 1970s, fueled by the oil crisis, which exposed the pervasiveness of energy in our personal, social, economic, and political lives. In contrast, fossil-fuel research has evolved over the course of more than 250 years, spurred on by the Industrial Revolution and the promise of plentiful fossil fuels. The evolution of the steam engine, for example, is inextricably linked to the study of thermodynamics. The Carnot cycle, the mechanical equivalent of heat, and entropy all played pivotal roles in the evolution of thermodynamics and heat engine technology. Solar-energy research has an equally bright future, with nanotechnology allowing for the discovery of the guiding principles of photonic energy conversion and their application in the creation of cost-competitive new technologies.

    Republic Of Solar

    Insights, Resources and Opportunities.

    Solar Energy: Photovoltaic (PV) Energy Conversion

    Learn how solar cells generate electricity, and about the semiconductor physics and optics required to design and manufacture solar cells.

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    Solar Energy: Photovoltaic (PV) Energy Conversion

    About this course

    The key factor in getting more efficient and cheaper solar energy panels is the advance in the development of photovoltaic cells. In this course you will learn how photovoltaic cells convert solar energy into useable electricity. You will also discover how to tackle potential loss mechanisms in solar cells. By understanding the semiconductor physics and optics involved, you will develop in-depth knowledge of how a photovoltaic cell works under different conditions. You will learn how to model all aspects of a working solar cell. For engineers and scientists working in the photovoltaic industry, this course is an absolute must to understand the opportunities for solar cell innovation.

    This course is part of the Solar Energy Engineering MicroMasters Program designed to cover all physics and engineering aspects of photovoltaics: photovoltaic energy conversion, technologies and systems.

    We recommend that you complete this course prior to taking the other courses in this MicroMasters program.

    At a glance

    Bachelor’s degree in Science or Engineering or the successful completion of TU Delft’s Professional Certificate Program Solar Energy.

    • Language: English
    • Video Transcript: English
    • Associated programs:
    • MicroMasters ® Program in Solar Energy Engineering

    What you’ll learn

    Audit learners can develop their skills and knowledge in relation to the above learning objectives by having access to the video lectures, a limited number of practice exercises and discussion forums.

    Verified learners are offered a number of study tools to demonstrate they have mastered the learning objectives. They will have access to all exercises: practice, graded and exam questions.


    Week 1: Introduction How do solar cells convert solar energy into electrical energy? What are the basic building blocks of a solar cell?

    Week 2: Semiconductor Basics What are semiconductors? What is a Band diagram?

    Week 3: Generation and Recombination What are the physics of charge carriers?

    Week 4: The P-N Junction What is a diode? How does a diode change when we apply a voltage? What about when we illuminate it with solar energy?

    Week 5: Advanced Concepts in Semiconductors What happens when we connect a semiconductor to a metal? What other types of junctions of semiconductor materials are important for solar cells?

    Week 6: Light management 1: Refraction/Dispersion/Refraction Which optical phenomena are important for solar cells? How can we use them to make sure maximal light is absorbed.

    Week 7: Light management 2: Light Scattering Which techniques can we use to scatter light in our solar cell to enhance optical path length?

    Week 8: Electrical Losses Pull all the concepts together to understand how to engineer solar cells.

    Learner testimonials

    I was able to familiarize myself with the latest theoretical knowledge on solar energy. This helped me to develop as an engineer and improve my skills- Previous student

    TU Delft ‘s Solar Energy Engineering MicroMasters program is great to get a grasp of the overall science of solar energy. It provides context to the current industry trends, and at the same time gives you the tools you need to know where the industry will be in the next decade- Bertram, The Netherlands

    about this course

    The course materials of this course are Copyright Delft University of Technology and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC-BY-NC-SA) 4.0 International License.

    Who can take this course?

    Unfortunately, learners residing in one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba and the Crimea region of Ukraine. While edX has sought licenses from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to offer our courses to learners in these countries and regions, the licenses we have received are not broad enough to allow us to offer this course in all locations. edX truly regrets that U.S. sanctions prevent us from offering all of our courses to everyone, no matter where they live.

    This course is part of Solar Energy Engineering MicroMasters Program

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