Photovoltaic energy is the most promising and popular form of solar energy. In solar photovoltaics, sunlight is actually converted into electricity. This is very different from a conventional understanding of solar power as only a way of heating water. Photovoltaic, now the biggest usage of solar energy around the world, is briefly explained below:
Sunlight is made of photons, small particles of energy. These photons are absorbed by and pass through the material of a solar cell or solar photovoltaic panel. The photons 'agitate' the electrons found in the material of the photovoltaic cell. As they begin to move (or are dislodged), these are 'routed' into a current. This, technically, is electricity - the movement of electrons along a path.
Wire conducts these electrons, either to batteries or to the regular electrical system of the house, to be used by appliances and other household electrical items. In many solar energy systems, the battery stores energy for later use. This is especially true when the sun is shining strongly.
Photovoltaics is used in a wide variety of situations:
- It can be used as part of the grid generation system (as with hydroelectric, nuclear and other kinds of power plants).
- It can be used to power a solar house, especially where there is abundance of sunlight.
- It can be used as portable power, to power anything from RVs to mobile camps.
- It is commonly used on a small scale to power calculators, for example.
We also have explanations of solar cells.
The solar cell on a calculator is a good micro-version for all PV systems: the PV panel feeds electricity to a battery. If the calculator is in use, the energy is used (at least in part) by the calculator. If it is not, the energy is stored in a battery, so solar calculators can be used after dark, or in less 'solar' conditions.
If you want to learn the whole complex story of solar electricity, check out solar photovoltaics fully explained.