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The Photovoltaic Effect

The Photovoltaic Effect: What it is and Why it Matters

More and more people are growing to accept that many of the things they take for granted come with a high environmental cost. Because of this, solar power has become more prevalent in the public awareness. And while it's slowly becoming a popular industry, many people don't understand how it works. That mystery keeps many people from adopting solar solutions in their everyday lives. One of the most basic ways that solar energy works is through the photovoltaic effect.

Defining Photovoltaics

While the term has many definitions, they all have to do with converting electromagnetic radiation into electricity. This process occurs with materials, called semiconductors, which have the inherent ability to process the photovoltaic effect. The word also comes into play as a descriptive term for those materials. Sometimes pieces of equipment will receive the term if it works through solar power. Because of these varying definitions, the word works as both a noun and an adjective.

Many modern applications that take advantage of photovoltaics, but the discovery of the process occurred in 1839. Since then, there has been a constant stream of further understanding and innovation. Notable names that have added to the early collective knowledge of photovoltaics include Becquerel, Weston, Tesla and Einstein.

The Photovoltaic Effect

This effect occurs when light hits the surface of a natural semiconductor material, such as silicone. This causes the material to create electricity. At an atomic level, photons from the light excites the molecules of the material, which causes that material to release electrons. Or, more simply, it's the conversion of photons to electrons.

Solar power works by using a circuit to divert those electrons and use them as a source of electricity. It takes a solar cell to make that process happen.

Solar Cells

The solar cell is the mechanism that carries out the process. A single solar cell typically consists of the semiconductor material sandwiched between electrical circuits. It's at this point that a lot of things change concerning solar power. Typically, a series of solar cells grouped together form a module. Those modules group into a solar array.

People automatically recognize these solar arrays as the things that generate solar power. That's because solar panel is another way of saying for solar array. However, modules and arrays are not all the same. The specific grouping of the modules, and the patterns of the arrays, offer different benefits depending on the application.

Why All of This is Important

The photovoltaic effect represents the most basic process that allows for solar energy. From there, manufacturers, scientists and other industry professionals strive to improve the process. There is a lot of science behind it and a lot of people working constantly to refine it and make it more efficient. It's a process that can help in virtually any application anyone chooses to apply it to.

The more people understand this basic principle of solar energy, the more knowledgeable they are when it comes time to consider applying it to their own needs. It represents a solution that works on a residential, commercial and industrial level.

Application Examples

There are already many everyday items that take advantage of this process, such as light-powered calculators, pumps, meters and fans. Equally, it applies to much larger projects, such as functional spacecraft. It also supplements other forms of electricity production and usage, such as helping to power buildings, or as an auxiliary power source.

Solar Energy – Solar energy itself, as a whole, is an application of the photovoltaic effect.

Spacecraft – Spacecraft have employed solar panels since 1958. Solar cells create the energy needed to run HVAC systems, propel the craft and power data transmissions among other things.

Smart Roads – There are already many plans in the works for roads that take advantage of photovoltaics all over the world. This solar pavement has already seen the light of day in small-scale use, but will make its way to larger roads and other places soon.

Rural Areas and Developing Countries – Developing countries are finding various ways to take advantage of solar energy. The same applies for rural areas that are off of power grids. There are making use of lighting solutions and other applications that ease the burden of a lack of a ready electrical supply.

Residential – Many people have found that installing their own solar arrays can help them offset energy costs. Solar power can also work as an emergency backup in case of power outages. It also adds value to a home.

Auxiliary Power – Having an extra power source is beneficial in any number of ways. It can add to the efficiency of any electrical application. It can also help lower the cost of operating said electrical applications. Right now, many industries, from agriculture to telecommunications, use solar power for just this purpose.

There is More to Solar

The photovoltaic effect is not the only method of generating electricity from light. And there are many, many variations on how different industries apply the effect. There are also methods for gathering heat from sunlight rather than electricity.

The point is that solar energy has applications beyond what many people think. New applications and means of using the photovoltaic effect crop up more and more frequently. There are even groups and think tanks that literally do nothing but attempt to come with new uses for solar energy. There are contractors that work with developers to figure out how best to add the photovoltaic effect to new constructions.

It really can serve as a readily available energy source for the world. Learning the basics is the first step; it gives people the ability to explore more about solar energy, so they can see for themselves. It may even help to spark new applications and innovations.