Solar Photovoltaic Energy: What is it?

Since the creation of the solar system, the sun has provided the earth with heat and light. Solar Photovoltaics (PV) is a modern technology used to generate electricity directly from sunlight cleanly, reliably and economically.


The Basics (this page)
Economics of Solar PV
Solar PV and the Environment
Solar PV Development

The basics

A solar PV cell converts energy from the sun into a flow of electrons. To generate more electricity, multiple cells are connected together to form PV modules, or solar panels.

Solar PV installations can be as simple as a single PV module to supply electricity to charge a battery, or as large as several thousand modules supplying energy to the utility grid. A group of PV modules in one power generation development is often referred to as a solar PV farm.

A 1 MW (megawatt) project operating in most parts of Ontario produces about 1,300 MWh (megawatt hours) per year — that is enough to supply power to about 160 homes. A PV module has an average life expectancy of 20-25 years. There are no moving parts within a module, but the efficiency of the solar conversion material within the module degrades by several percent over its life time.

The efficiency of solar PV increases in colder temperatures and is particularly well-suited for Canada’s climate. To maximize generation, PV modules should be oriented towards the south and should have an unobstructed view of the sun all year.

Of course, there will be times when there is very little or no sun available to generate electricity. That means that solar PV power cannot be the only source of electricity generation. However, combining the power output from different types of renewable energy can help even out the variations. Wind and solar are especially complimentary, since the period of highest solar PV potential (at midday) coincides with when wind energy generation tends to be lowest.

More: Economics of Solar Photovoltaic Energy

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