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Photovoltaic Systems

What is solar electricity?

Photovoltaic (or PV) systems convert light energy into electricity. The term "photo" is a stem from the Greek "phos," which means "light." "Volt" is named for Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), a pioneer in the study of electricity. "Photo-voltaics," then, could literally mean "light-electricity." Most commonly known as "solar cells," PV systems are already an important part of our lives. The simplest systems power many of the small calculators and wrist watches we use every day. More complicated systems provide electricity for pumping water, powering communications equipment, and even lighting our homes and running our appliances. In a surprising number of cases, PV power is the cheapest form of electricity for performing these tasks.
(U.S. Department of Energy)

Why is PV so important?

PV-generated power offers advantages over diesel generators, primary (one-time use) batteries, and even conventional utility power. These benefits make PV the power of choice in more and more cases every day:

  • High Reliability
  • Low Operating Costs
  • Environmental Benefits
  • Modularity
  • Low Construction Costs

High Reliability
PV cells were originally developed for use in space, where repair is extremely expensive, if not impossible. PV still powers nearly every satellite circling the earth because it operates reliably for long periods of time with virtually no maintenance.

Low Operating Costs
PV cells use the energy from sunlight to produce electricity-the fuel is free. With no moving parts, the cells require little upkeep. These low-maintenance, cost-effective PV systems are ideal for supplying power to communications stations on mountain tops, navigational buoys at sea, or homes far from utility power lines.

Environmental Benefits
Because they burn no fuel and have no moving parts, PV systems are clean and silent. This is especially important where the main alternatives for obtaining power and light are from diesel genertors and kerosene lanterns. As we become more aware of "greenhouse gases" and their detrimental effects on our planet, clean energy alternatives like PV become more important than ever.

Modularity
A PV system can be constructed to any size based on energy requirements. Furthermore, the owner of a PV system can enlarge or move it if his or her energy needs change. For instance, homeowners can add modules every few years as their energy usage and financial resources grow. Ranchers can use mobile trailer-mounted pumping systems to water cattle as the cattle are rotated to different fields.

Low Construction Costs
PV systems are usually placed close to where the electricity is used, requiring much shorter power lines than if power is brought in from the utility grid. In addition, using PV eliminates the need for a step-down transformer from the utility line. Less wiring means lower costs, shorter construction time, and reduced permitting paperwork, particularly in urban areas.

-(U.S. Department of Energy)

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