Saturday, February 12, 2022

What is a solar cell and how it works?

Solar cell is an electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect, which is a physical and chemical phenomenon. It is a form of photoelectric cell, defined as a device whose electrical characteristics, such as current, voltage, or resistance, vary when exposed to light.

Individual solar cell devices are often the electrical building blocks of photovoltaic modules, known colloquially as solar panels.


The photovoltaic effect was experimentally demonstrated first by French physicist Edmond Becquerel. In 1839, at age 19, he built the world’s first photovoltaic cell in his father’s laboratory. Willoughby Smith first described the “Effect of Light on Selenium during the passage of an Electric Current” in a 20 February 1873 issue of Nature.

In 1883 Charles Fritts built the first solid state photovoltaic cell by coating the semiconductor selenium with a thin layer of gold to form the junctions; the device was only around 1% efficient.

Solar cells are described as being photovoltaic, irrespective of whether the source is sunlight or an artificial light. In addition to producing energy, they can be used as a photodetector (for example infrared detectors), detecting light or other electromagnetic radiation near the visible range, or measuring light intensity.

The operation of a photovoltaic (PV) cell requires thre
e basic attributes:
  • The absorption of light, generating either electron-hole pairs or excitons.
  • The separation of charge carriers of opposite types.
  • The separate extraction of those carriers to an external circuit.

In contrast, a solar thermal collector supplies heat by absorbing sunlight, for the purpose of either direct heating or indirect electrical power generation from heat.

A “photoelectrolytic cell” (photoelectrochemical cell), on the other hand, refers either to a type of photovoltaic cell (like that developed by Edmond Becquerel and modern dye-sensitized solar cells), or to a device that splits water directly into hydrogen and oxygen using only solar illumination.
©Wallpaper FLare

The common single junction silicon solar cell can produce a maximum open-circuit voltage of approximately 0.5 volts to 0.6 volts.

Many use organic materials, often organometallic compounds as well as inorganic substances. Despite the fact that their efficiencies had been low and the stability of the absorber material was often too short for commercial applications, there is research into these technologies as they promise to achieve the goal of producing low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells.

Photovoltaic cells and solar collectors are the two means of producing solar power.

In recent years, research has moved towards designing and manufacturing lightweight, flexible, and highly efficient solar cells. Terrestrial solar cell technology generally uses photovoltaic cells that are laminated with a layer of glass for strength and protection. Space applications for solar cells require that the cells and arrays are both highly efficient and extremely lightweight.

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