What is a Photovoltaic Cell?

What is a photovoltaic cell and how does it work? A PV cell is a semiconductor diode that is specifically designed to capture sunlight and convert it into infrared, direct current, or ultraviolet radiation.

These tiny devices are also known as solar cells, and could very well be the answer to our energy needs now and in the coming years as technology continues to develop new ways to capture the sun's energy and turn it into useable energy. The research is ongoing and is revealing exciting applications for PV cells for both residential and commercial properties.

The word photovoltaic means light and electricity. PV cells soak up the sun's energy and then produce electricity we can use to power our homes and businesses. Solar panels are formed from solar arrays, which are essentially several PV cells arranged together.

How Do PV Cells Work?

Simply explained, photovoltaic cells convert the light that the sun provides into a source of electricity. How does this happen? Sunlight contains photons. PV cells contain electrons. The photons in the sunlight cause the electrons in the cell to react or move. A solar array or panel is made up of several solar cells connected to each other. When the electrons in each cell are activated, the energy produced is captured and converted into an electrical current. The electricity produced by PV cells can be used to power lights, appliances, tools, and much more.

What Materials Are Used in PV Cells?

Silicon is the semiconductor used most often to create PV cells. Sunlight comes into contact with the silicon and electrons are knocked loose, creating energy or electricity. Unfortunately, silicon is not the most effective conductor of electricity, so PV cells are made from not only silicon, but also combined with boron and phosphorus to make it more light absorbent. The energy is then converted via an inverter into an electrical current that can be used to power homes and businesses.

How Many Photovoltaic Cells Make Up a Panel?

The size of a solar panel is determined by how much energy is desired. Smaller solar panels contain roughly 36 cells. Other various size panels contain 72 cells and still others contain 50-60 cells in one panel. The number of cells in a panel is directly related to the voltage you wish to produce, so the number of cells in a solar panel can really vary.

Types of Solar or PV Cells

There are two types of cells: amorphous and crystalline. Amorphous cells are found in smaller applications such as garden lamps and solar calculators. Crystalline cells, which could be polycrystalline or monocrystalline, are the cells typically used for larger applications such as residential and commercial solar panels.

DIY Solar Cell vs. Purchased Kit

The cost to make your own solar cell is just under $3.00 per cell. Solar cells in purchased kits are priced per watt rather than per cell. Those prices fluctuate between $.98 per watt and $4.00 per watt. A 60-watt module would cost roughly $58.80 to $240.00.

Photovoltaic or solar cells are the wave of the future. The prices of solar power kits, although still cost-prohibitive for some, have come down in price over the last few years.

More and more homeowners are building their own solar panels for a fraction of the cost. The solar cell could revolutionize the world's energy sources! Exciting isn't it?

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