What exactly is solar PV?

When you shine light on a solar PV panel, electricity comes out. But how does it all work? For a long time, solar PV has been used to power little things, like calculators, and specialised technology, like communications satellites. But why does everyone seems to be so excited about solar PV now? I mean, last year, the world installed somewhere around 300 million solar panels!

Better technology

The big difference is improvements in the manufacturing process. These improvements mean that today’s solar panels are many more times more powerful than the tiny little panels in a calculator, and much more affordable, so you don’t need NASA’s budget to get a decent amount of power! Today, a solar PV system for your home starts from a few thousand euro and will provide you with much of the electricity that you need over the course of the year.

Satellite with solar PV panels to produce electricity
In the early days solar PV panels were extremely expensive and only used in very specialised applications like space exploration. Today, some solar farms are so big that they can be seen from space!

The state of the art

In practical terms, the standard PV panels being installed today are about one meter wide and between 1.6 meters and 2 meters long. A number of these panels can be connected together to boost the total power. The front of the panels are made from toughened glass to allow light in and resist the elements. Around the edge of the panel is an aluminium frame for secure mounting and resistance to corrosion. Finally, inside the panel are the silicon cells. It is in these silicon cells that the magic happens. Photons of light make the electrons in the silicon move – and there you have it: electricity!

Working installing a solar PV panel on the roof of a commercial building.
A worker handling a typical solar PV panel. The panel pictured here is a 60-cell model, with a size of approximately 1.6 metres long by 1 metre wide.

More than just panels

Powering your house with solar PV is not only about the panels. While they are important, panels need to sit within a larger system to provide a safe and reliable supply of power for your home. Click here to learn about grid-tied solar PV systems, the most popular type of solar PV system in Ireland.

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