Solar photovoltaics—technology
Produced in partnership with WSP Environmental
Solar photovoltaics—technology

The following Energy guidance note Produced in partnership with WSP Environmental provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Solar photovoltaics—technology
  • What is solar PV?
  • PV technology components
  • How they work
  • Where PV works
  • Key conditions for development
  • Economics and costs
  • Example of PV installations in the UK
  • Pros and cons of PV technology
  • Technology status and diffusion
  • more

What is solar PV?

Photovoltaic (PV) technology uses solar energy to generate electricity. The word 'photovoltaic' comprises two parts:

  1. photo, derived from the Greek word for light, and

  2. volt, the unit of electromotive force, relating to electricity pioneer Alessandro Volta

Photovoltaic materials convert light energy into electrical energy, as demonstrated by French physicist Edmond Becquerel in 1839, who discovered the process of using sunlight to produce an electric current in a solid material. It took more than another century for scientists to learn that the photoelectric or photovoltaic effect caused certain materials to convert light energy into electrical energy at the atomic level.

PV technology components

Cells and modules

Typically, PV systems consist of PV cells, usually made of one or two layers of silicon or similar materials, joined in series to form modules. When the sun's rays hit the cell, an electric field is generated across the layers.

The modules are constructed like a sandwich and are protected by glass laminates on the top and bottom, contained in a structural frame (typically aluminium) that protects the glass.

PV systems typically use either silicon or thin-film technologies:

  1. silicon—based on the crystal type and crystal size, crystalline cells are categorised in either mono or poly crystalline:

    1. monocrystalline cells use single crystal silicon, making the internal crystalline structure completely homogenous. They are