Solar knowledge: Photovoltaics/solar energy

Photovoltaics: How solar energy works

Development and function of solar energy

What does photovoltaics mean?

The term "photovoltaics" is made up of two parts of the word. "Photo" is derived from the Greek word "phos", which means "light" - in photovoltaics, "photo" therefore refers to light, in particular sunlight. "Voltaic" is a reference to the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, who is known for his work in the fields of electricity and batteries.

Put together, "photovoltaics" literally means converting light into electricity". It describes the technology in which solar cells are used to convert sunlight into electrical energy. Photovoltaics is a sustainable method of generating electricity and is used in solar energy generated and solar modules to produce clean and renewable energy.

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Key data for the development of solar energy

Discovery of the photovoltaic effect

The development of photovoltaics has helped to make solar energy an important and sustainable energy source that is used worldwide to generate clean electricity. Historically, the development dates back to 1839. At that time, the French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel the photovoltaic effect - he realised that certain materials generated an electrical voltage when exposed to sunlight.

First photovoltaic cells

In the 1950s, scientists such as Bell Laboratories in the USA developed the first usable photovoltaic cells. However, these were still expensive and not very efficient. In the 1950s and 1960s, NASA and other space agencies began using photovoltaic cells in space satellites and spacecraft. These cells proved very reliable and efficient and contributed to space exploration.

Further development & upswing

Over the decades, continuous progress has been made in improving the efficiency and reducing the cost of photovoltaic cells. This has led to the increased use of solar energy, both in off-grid applications and for power generation on a larger scale.

In recent decades, the the photovoltaic industry has experienced a strong upswing, driven byenvironmental awareness, government incentives and technological advances. Photovoltaic systems are now an important source of renewable energy worldwide and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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How does a solar system work?

A solar system converts sunlight into electrical energy based on the photovoltaic effect. The process works roughly as follows:

Absorption of sunlight: The solar system consists of solar modules that contain a large number of solar cells. These solar cells are designed to absorb sunlight.

Photovoltaic process: When sunlight hits the solar cells, it triggers what is known as the photovoltaic effect. This effect causes the solar cells to set electrons in motion and generate an electrical voltage.

Direct current generation: The electrical voltage generated is usually direct current (DC), similar to the current from batteries. This direct current can be used directly to operate direct current devices or it can be converted into alternating current (AC) to be fed into the public power grid or used in the household.

Inverter: An inverter is an essential component of a solar power system that converts the direct current generated into alternating current suitable for domestic use. The inverter ensures that the electricity generated has the correct voltage and frequency for the household.

Utilisation and grid feed-in: The electricity generated can be used directly in the household to power electrical appliances. Surplus electricity can be fed into the public grid, which in many cases means that the homeowner receives remuneration for the energy generated. In off-grid systems (stand-alone systems), the electricity generated can be stored in batteries for use when needed.

Monitoring and control: Modern solar installations are often equipped with monitoring and control systems that monitor and optimise the performance of the system. This enables efficient utilisation of the energy generated.

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