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Introduction

Photovoltaics (PV) is a method of generating electrical power by converting sunlight into


direct current electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect.
A photovoltaic system employs solar panels composed of a number of solar cells to supply
usable solar power. Power generation from solar PV has long been seen as a clean
sustainable
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energy technology which draws upon the planets most plentiful and widely
distributed renewable energy source the sun. The direct conversion of sunlight to electricity
occurs without any moving parts or environmental emissions during operation. It is well
proven, as photovoltaic systems have now been used for fifty years in specialized
applications, and grid-connected PV systems have been in use for over twenty years.
[2]
Plug in solar[edit]
In 2012, a UL approved solar panel was introduced which is simply plugged into an electrical
outlet. It senses mains voltage and waits 5 minutes before activating the inverter, and shuts
down immediately if lines voltage is removed, eliminating any shock hazard from touching
the plug prongs. Up to five 240 watt panels can be connected to one outlet.
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Telecommunication and signaling[edit]
Solar PV power is ideally suited for telecommunication applications such as local telephone
exchange, radio and TV broadcasting, microwave and other forms of electronic
communication links. This is because, in most telecommunication application, storage
batteries are already in use and the electrical system is basically DC. In hilly and
mountainous terrain, radio and TV signals may not reach as they get blocked or reflected
back due to undulating terrain. At these locations, low power transmitters (LPT) are installed
to receive and retransmit the signal for local population.
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Photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar collector[edit]
Main article: Photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar collector.
Photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar collectors, sometimes known as hybrid PV/T systems
or PVT, are systems that convert solar radiation into thermal and electrical energy. These
systems combine a photovoltaic cell, which converts electromagnetic radiation (photons) into
electricity, with a solar thermal collector, which captures the remaining energy and removes
waste heat from the PV module. The capture of both electricity and heat allow these devices
to have higher exergy
[86]
and thus be more overall energy efficient than solar photovoltaic
(PV) or solar thermal alone.
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Advantages and disadvantages[edit]
The 122 PW of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface is plentifulalmost 10,000 times more
than the 13 TW equivalent of average power consumed in 2005 by humans.
[88]
This
abundance leads to the suggestion that it will not be long before solar energy will become the
world's primary energy source.
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Additionally, solar electric generation has the highest power
density (global mean of 170 W/m
2
) among renewable energies.
[88]

Solar power is pollution-free during use. Production end-wastes and emissions are
manageable using existing pollution controls. End-of-use recycling technologies are under
development
[90]
and policies are being produced that encourage recycling from producers.
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PV installations can operate for 100 years or even more
[92]
with little maintenance or
intervention after their initial set-up, so after the initial capital cost of building any solar
power plant, operating costs are extremely low compared to existing power technologies.
Grid-connected solar electricity can be used locally thus reducing transmission/distribution
losses (transmission losses in the US were approximately 7.2% in 1995).
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Compared to fossil and nuclear energy sources, very little research money has been invested
in the development of solar cells, so there is considerable room for improvement.
Nevertheless, experimental high efficiency solar cells already have efficiencies of over 40%
in case of concentrating photovoltaic cells
[94]
and efficiencies are rapidly rising while mass-
production costs are rapidly falling.
[95]

In some states of the United States, much of the investment in a home-mounted system may
be lost if the home-owner moves and the buyer puts less value on the system than the seller.
The city of Berkeley developed an innovative financing method to remove this limitation, by
adding a tax assessment that is transferred with the home to pay for the solar panels.
[96]
Now
known as PACE, Property Assessed Clean Energy, 28 U.S. states have duplicated this
solution.
[97]

There is evidence, at least in California, that the presence of a home-mounted solar system
can actually increase the value of a home. According to a paper published in April 2011 by
the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory titled An Analysis of the Effects
of Residential Photovoltaic Energy Systems on Home Sales Prices in California:
The research finds strong evidence that homes with PV systems in California have sold for a
premium over comparable homes without PV systems. More specifically, estimates for
average PV premiums range from approximately $3.9 to $6.4 per installed watt (DC) among
a large number of different model specifications, with most models coalescing near $5.5/watt.
That value corresponds to a premium of approximately $17,000 for a relatively new 3,100
watt PV system (the average size of PV systems in the study).
[98


Photovoltaic (solar cell) Systems

Solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar cells are often used to power calculators
and watches. They are made of semiconducting materials similar to those used in computer
chips. When sunlight is absorbed by these materials, the solar energy knocks electrons loose
from their atoms, allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. This
process of converting light (photons) to electricity (voltage) is called the photovoltaic (PV) effect.
Solar cells are typically combined into modules that hold about 40 cells; a number of these
modules are mounted in PV arrays that can measure up to several meters on a side. These flat-
plate PV arrays can be mounted at a fixed angle facing south, or they can be mounted on a
tracking device that follows the sun, allowing them to capture the most sunlight over the course
of a day. Several connected PV arrays can provide enough power for a household; for large
electric utility or industrial applications, hundreds of arrays can be interconnected to form a
single, large PV system.
Thin film solar cells use layers of semiconductor materials only a few micrometers thick. Thin film
technology has made it possible for solar cells to now double as rooftop shingles, roof tiles,
building facades, or the glazing for skylights or atria. The solar cell version of items such as
shingles offer the same protection and durability as ordinary asphalt shingles.
Some solar cells are designed to operate with concentrated sunlight. These cells are built into
concentrating collectors that use a lens to focus the sunlight onto the cells. This approach has
both advantages and disadvantages compared with flat-plate PV arrays. The main idea is to use
very little of the expensive semiconducting PV material while collecting as much sunlight as
possible. But because the lenses must be pointed at the sun, the use of concentrating collectors
is limited to the sunniest parts of the country. Some concentrating collectors are designed to be
mounted on simple tracking devices, but most require sophisticated tracking devices, which
further limit their use to electric utilities, industries, and large buildings.
The performance of a solar cell is measured in terms of its efficiency at turning sunlight into
electricity. Only sunlight of certain energies will work efficiently to create electricity, and much of it
is reflected or absorbed by the material that make up the cell. Because of this, a typical
commercial solar cell has an efficiency of 15%-about one-sixth of the sunlight striking the cell
generates electricity. Low efficiencies mean that larger arrays are needed, and that means higher
cost. Improving solar cell efficiencies while holding down the cost per cell is an important goal of
the PV industry, NREL researchers, and other U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories,
and they have made significant progress. The first solar cells, built in the 1950s, had efficiencies
of less than 4%.
Solar Hot Water

For solar hot water systems, flat-plate solar collectors are typically installed facing south on a
rooftop. Credit: James Jones
The shallow water of a lake is usually warmer than the deep water. That's because the sunlight
can heat the lake bottom in the shallow areas, which in turn, heats the water. It's nature's way of
solar water heating. The sun can be used in basically the same way to heat water used in
buildings and swimming pools.
Most solar water heating systems for buildings have two main parts: a solar collector and a
storage tank. The most common collector is called a flat-plate collector. Mounted on the roof, it
consists of a thin, flat, rectangular box with a transparent cover that faces the sun. Small tubes
run through the box and carry the fluid either water or other fluid, such as an antifreeze solution
to be heated. The tubes are attached to an absorber plate, which is painted black to absorb the
heat. As heat builds up in the collector, it heats the fluid passing through the tubes.
The storage tank then holds the hot liquid. It can be just a modified water heater, but it is usually
larger and very well-insulated. Systems that use fluids other than water usually heat the water by
passing it through a coil of tubing in the tank, which is full of hot fluid.
Solar water heating systems can be either active or passive, but the most common are active
systems. Active systems rely on pumps to move the liquid between the collector and the storage
tank, while passive systems rely on gravity and the tendency for water to naturally circulate as it
is heated.
Swimming pool systems are simpler. The pool's filter pump is used to pump the water through a
solar collector, which is usually made of black plastic or rubber. And of course, the pool stores
the hot water.
Solar Electricity

A 25-kilowatt Dish Stirling System catches its last rays of light at the end of the day. Credit:
Stirling Energy Systems
Many power plants today use fossil fuels as a heat source to boil water. The steam from the
boiling water rotates a large turbine, which activates a generator that produces electricity.
However, a new generation of power plants, with concentrating solar power systems, uses the
sun as a heat source. There are three main types of concentrating solar power systems:
parabolic-trough, dish/engine, and power tower.
Parabolic-trough systems concentrate the sun's energy through long rectangular, curved (U-
shaped) mirrors. The mirrors are tilted toward the sun, focusing sunlight on a pipe that runs down
the center of the trough. This heats the oil flowing through the pipe. The hot oil then is used to
boil water in a conventional steam generator to produce electricity.
A dish/engine system uses a mirrored dish (similar to a very large satellite dish). The dish-
shaped surface collects and concentrates the sun's heat onto a receiver, which absorbs the heat
and transfers it to fluid within the engine. The heat causes the fluid to expand against a piston or
turbine to produce mechanical power. The mechanical power is then used to run a generator or
alternator to produce electricity.
A power tower system uses a large field of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto the top of a
tower, where a receiver sits. This heats molten salt flowing through the receiver. Then, the salt's
heat is used to generate electricity through a conventional steam generator. Molten salt retains
heat efficiently, so it can be stored for days before being converted into electricity. That means
electricity can be produced on cloudy days or even several hours after sunset.
Passive Solar Heating and Daylighting

Thousands of years ago, the Anasazi Indians in Colorado incorporated passive solar design in
their cliff dwellings. Credit: John Thornton
Step outside on a hot and sunny summer day, and you'll feel the power of solar heat and light.
Today, many buildings are designed to take advantage of this natural resource through the use
of passive solar heating and daylighting.
The south side of a building always receives the most sunlight. Therefore, buildings designed for
passive solar heating usually have large, south-facing windows. Materials that absorb and store
the sun's heat can be built into the sunlit floors and walls. The floors and walls will then heat up
during the day and slowly release heat at night, when the heat is needed most. This passive
solar design feature is called direct gain.
Other passive solar heating design features include sunspaces and trombe walls. A sunspace
(which is much like a greenhouse) is built on the south side of a building. As sunlight passes
through glass or other glazing, it warms the sunspace. Proper ventilation allows the heat to
circulate into the building. On the other hand, a trombe wall is a very thick, south-facing wall,
which is painted black and made of a material that absorbs a lot of heat. A pane of glass or
plastic glazing, installed a few inches in front of the wall, helps hold in the heat. The wall heats up
slowly during the day. Then as it cools gradually during the night, it gives off its heat inside the
building.
Many of the passive solar heating design features also provide daylighting. Daylighting is simply
the use of natural sunlight to brighten up a building's interior. To lighten up north-facing rooms
and upper levels, a clerestory - a row of windows near the peak of the roof - is often used along
with an open floor plan inside that allows the light to bounce throughout the building.
Of course, too much solar heating and daylighting can be a problem during the hot summer
months. Fortunately, there are many design features that help keep passive solar buildings cool
in the summer. For instance, overhangs can be designed to shade windows when the sun is high
in the summer. Sunspaces can be closed off from the rest of the building. And a building can be
designed to use fresh-air ventilation in the summer.
Solar Process Space Heating and Cooling

A transpired collector is installed at a FedEx facility in Denver. Credit: Warren Gretz
Commercial and industrial buildings may use the same solar technologies - photovoltaics,
passive heating, daylighting, and water heating - that are used for residential buildings. These
nonresidential buildings can also use solar energy technologies that would be impractical for a
home. These technologies include ventilation air preheating, solar process heating, and solar
cooling.
Many large buildings need ventilated air to maintain indoor air quality. In cold climates, heating
this air can use large amounts of energy. A solar ventilation system can preheat the air, saving
both energy and money. This type of system typically uses a transpired collector , which
consists of a thin, black metal panel mounted on a south-facing wall to absorb the sun's heat. Air
passes through the many small holes in the panel. A space behind the perforated wall allows the
air streams from the holes to mix together. The heated air is then sucked out from the top of the
space into the ventilation system.
Solar process heating systems are designed to provide large quantities of hot water or space
heating for nonresidential buildings. A typical system includes solar collectors that work along
with a pump, a heat exchanger, and/or one or more large storage tanks. The two main types of
solar collectors used - an evacuated-tube collector and a parabolic-trough collector - can
operate at high temperatures with high efficiency. An evacuated-tube collector is a shallow box
full of many glass, double-walled tubes and reflectors to heat the fluid inside the tubes. A vacuum
between the two walls insulates the inner tube, holding in the heat. Parabolic troughs are long,
rectangular, curved (U-shaped) mirrors tilted to focus sunlight on a tube, which runs down the
center of the trough. This heats the fluid within the tube.
The heat from a solar collector can also be used to cool a building. It may seem impossible to
use heat to cool a building, but it makes more sense if you just think of the solar heat as an
energy source. Your familiar home air conditioner uses an energy source, electricity, to create
cool air. Solar absorption coolers use a similar approach, combined with some very complex
chemistry tricks, to create cool air from solar energy. Solar energy can also be used with
evaporative coolers (also called "swamp coolers") to extend their usefulness to more humid
climates, using another chemistry trick called desiccant cooling.