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posted 14 Feb 2010, 00:31 by Toby Roscoe   [ updated 14 Feb 2010, 00:36 ]

Photovoltaics, or PV for short, is a technology that converts light directly into electricity. Due to the growing need for solar energy, the manufacture of solar cells and solar photovoltaic array has expanded dramatically in recent years and grants of 50% of the cost of the equipment and installation are available due to the reduced impact of these systems on our climate. 

There are two configurations for your PV system, either grid-tied or stand-alone. Grid-tied PV has the advantage of being cheaper to install, as no battery system is required, instead electricity produced is sold to the grid when production is greater that required (during the day) and electricity is bought from the grid when demand is greater than production (at night or at other peak times). A synchronous grid-connected inverter is needed to step-up the voltage from the PV array, which is usually 12-24V to the 220-240V of the grid. This device also moderates the alternations in current to be in phase with the grid.  

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More from Wikipedia:

(PVs) are arrays of cells containing a Solar photovoltaic material that converts solar radiation into direct current electricity. Materials presently used for photovoltaics include monocrystalline siliconpolycrystalline siliconmicrocrystalline siliconcadmium telluride, and copper indium selenide/sulfide.[1] Due to the growing demand for renewable energy sources, the manufacture of solar cells and photovoltaic arrays has advanced dramatically in recent years.[2][3][4]

Photovoltaic production has been doubling every 2 years, increasing by an average of 48 percent each year since 2002, making it the world’s fastest-growing energy technology.[5] At the end of 2008, the cumulative global PV installations reached 15,200 megawatts.[6][7] Roughly 90% of this generating capacity consists of grid-tied electrical systems. Such installations may be ground-mounted (and sometimes integrated with farming and grazing) [8] or built into the roof or walls of a building, known as Building Integrated Photovoltaics or BIPV for short.[9] Solar PV power stations today have capacities ranging from 10-60 MW although proposed solar PV power stations will have a capacity of 150 MW or more.[1]

Driven by advances in technology and increases in manufacturing scale and sophistication, the cost of photovoltaics has declined steadily since the first solar cells were manufactured.[10] Net metering and financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity, have supported solar PV installations in many countries.

Photovoltaics are best known as a method for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into electricity. Thephotovoltaic effect refers to photons of light knocking electrons into a higher state of energy to create electricity. The term photovoltaic denotes the unbiased operating mode of a photodiode in which current through the device is entirely due to the transduced light energy. Virtually all photovoltaic devices are some type of photodiode.

Solar cells produce direct current electricity from light, which can be used to power equipment or to recharge a battery. The first practical application of photovoltaics was to power orbiting satellites and other spacecraft, but today the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid connected power generation. In this case an inverter is required to convert the DC to AC. There is a smaller market for off-grid power for remote dwellings, boatsrecreational vehicles, electric cars, roadside emergency telephones, remote sensing, and cathodic protection of pipelines.

Average solar irradiance, watts per square metre. Note that this is for a horizontal surface, whereas solar panels are normally mounted at an angle and receive more energy per unit area. The small black dots show the area of solar panels needed to generate all of the world's energy using 8% efficient photovoltaics.

Cells require protection from the environment and are usually packaged tightly behind a glass sheet. When more power is required than a single cell can deliver, cells are electrically connected together to formphotovoltaic modules, or solar panels. A single module is enough to power an emergency telephone, but for a house or a power plant the modules must be arranged in multiples as arrays. Although the selling price of modules is still too high to compete with grid electricity in most places, significant financial incentives in Japan and then Germany, Italy and France triggered a huge growth in demand, followed quickly by production. In 2008, Spain installed 45% of all photovoltaics, but a change in law limiting the feed-in tariff is expected to cause a precipitous drop in the rate of new installations there, from an extra 2500 MW in 2008 to an expected additional 375 MW in 2009.[11]

Perhaps not unexpectedly, a significant market has emerged in off-grid locations for solar-power-charged storage-battery based solutions. These often provide the only electricity available.[12] The first commercial installation of this kind was in 1966 on Ogami Island in Japan to transitionOgami Lighthouse from gas torch to fully self-sufficient electrical power.

World solar photovoltaic (PV) installations were 2.826 gigawatts peak (GWp) in 2007, and 5.95 gigawatts in 2008, a 110% increase.[13][14] The three leading countries (Germany, Japan and the US) represent nearly 89% of the total worldwide PV installed capacity. According to Navigant Consulting and Electronic Trend Publications, the estimated PV worldwide installations outlooks of 2012 are 18.8GW and 12.3GW respectively. Notably, the manufacture of solar cells and modules had expanded in coming years.

Germany was the fastest growing major PV market in the world from 2006 to 2007. By 2008, 5.337 GWp of PV was installed, or 35% of the world total.[7] The German PV industry generates over 10,000 jobs in production, distribution and installation. By the end of 2006, nearly 88% of all solar PV installations in the EU were in grid-tied applications in Germany.[2] Photovoltaic power capacity is measured as maximum power output under standardized test conditions (STC) in "Wp" (Watts peak).[15] The actual power output at a particular point in time may be less than or greater than this standardized, or "rated," value, depending on geographical location, time of day, weather conditions, and other factors.[16] Solar photovoltaic array capacity factors are typically under 25%, which is lower than many other industrial sources of electricity.[17] Therefore the 2008 installed base peak output would have provided an average output of 3.04 GW (assuming 20% × 15,200 MWp). This represented 0.15 percent of global demand at the time.[18]

The EPIA/Greenpeace Advanced Scenario shows that by the year 2030, PV systems could be generating approximately 1,864 GW of electricity around the world. This means that, assuming a serious commitment is made to energy efficiency, enough solar power would be produced globally in twenty-five years’ time to satisfy the electricity needs of almost 14% of the world’s population.[19]