Photovoltaic Solar Power

Photovoltaic solar power technologies have come a long way since the first solar panel over 60 years ago. A photovoltaic cell is basically a wide area P-N diode with its junction very close to the top surface. They are also known as solar cells and are put together in large numbers in solar panels which are then used to convert energy from the sun into electricity.

Modern photovoltaic solar power technology uses a crystalline semiconductor, similar to those used in computer chips and as a result solar technology is still relatively expensive compared to more basic green technologies such as wind. Despite the additional costs, the advantages of having a static and versatile power generation opportunity has meant huge research and investment in this field which is both bringing down the cost to consumers as well as greatly improving the efficiency of photovoltaic cells.

Photovoltaic power statistics

All the way back in 1980 when solar power was little more than a wonderful but highly impractical idea, solar panels cost approximately $20 dollars per watt. Over the next 15 years it fell to about $5 a watt, and now, in 2012 it is down to less than $2 per watt and is expected to drop below $1 by 2013. This has meant that solar power has become a real contender in the future of humanity’s fuel requirements. Back in 1996 when the use of solar power was just beginning to gain traction the world’s PV power output was 350 MW (mega watts) whereas by the end of 2011 it was 69,684 MW. An unbelievable increase I think you’ll agree and this growth shows no signs of slowing. The use of solar panels and photovoltaic cell technology grows approximately 55% per year meaning that by 2040 solar power could account for about 27% of global energy demand.

Manufacturing photovoltaic cells

The process for manufacturing panels for photovoltaic solar power has become a lot cheaper and efficient over the years advancements in solar and production technolgies have allowed for a wide range of different sizes and type of solar panels to be made.

The images below depict the manufacturing process for the most common type of solar cells: Crystalline Silicon Panels

The first step in any manufacturing process is the acquisition of suitable materials, in the the case of photovoltaic the most important material is silicon, the second most abundant mineral in the earths crust.

The next step is the production of the photovoltaic cells themselves. Every solar panel has many of these which are connected by wires through which the energy created can flow.

The final step (above) is the joining of the individual cells and then sealing and laminating.

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