What is photovoltaic (PV) technology and how does it work? PV materials and devices convert sunlight into electrical energy. A single PV device is known as a cell. An individual PV cell is usually small, typically producing about 1 or 2 watts of power . These cells are made of different semiconductor materials and are often less than the thickness of four human hairs. In order to withstand the outdoors for many years, cells are sandwiched between protective materials in a combination of glass and/or plastics.
To boost the power output of PV cells, they are connected together in chains to form larger units known as modules or panels. Modules can be used individually, or several can be connected to form arrays. One or more arrays is then connected to the electrical grid as part of a complete PV system. Because of this modular structure, PV systems can be built to meet almost any electric power need, small or large.
PV modules and arrays are just one part of a PV system. Systems also include mounting structures that point panels toward the sun, along with the components that take the direct-current (DC) electricity produced by modules and convert it to the alternating-current (AC) electricity used to power all of the appliances in your home.
An important strength of photovoltaic solar energy (PV) is that PV conversion can be realised with a multitude of materials and device designs and can be used for many different applications and markets. This makes PV development and deployment very robust: if some approaches are not yet, no longer or not at all successful, there are always other options left. In fact, this is an important reason why the PV sector has been able to grow ever since its early days, more than half a century ago. At the same time, this multitude of options leads to confusion among stakeholders; some often-heard questions are: what is the best technology, should I wait until something better/cheaper/more efficient becomes available, will this product be obsolete soon? Although there are no easy answers to some of these questions, it is useful to put PV technology developments into perspective.
PV technologies and applications
In this paper, the term “PV technologies” refers to a combination of an absorber material, a cell architecture in the form a wafer or a stack of thin layers, a module, and (where relevant) a system application. This is more specific than, for instance, simply “crystalline silicon” or “thin film”. Such a more detailed differentiation fits with the development stage of the PV sector, where different market segments require dedicated solutions for optimum technological, economic or societal PV performance. Examples are Building Integrated PV (BIPV), Infrastructure-Integrated PV (I2PV), floating PV systems, ground-based PV power plants, vehicle-integrated PV, and more.
Whereas the PV industry has been able to reduce manufacturing costs and selling prices spectacularly by, primarily, producing a huge quantity of cells and modules that are very similar, thus achieving optimum economies of scale, this now also starts limiting the application possibilities of PV. One could say that one size no longer fits all. The challenge is to broaden the product portfolio without increasing cost to unacceptable levels: additional manufacturing cost should not outweigh enhanced application value. Since the niche market of yesterday may develop into the multi-gigawatt market of tomorrow, this should in principle be possible if the initial hurdle of small volumes and high prices can be overcome. The PV sector as a whole has demonstrated this to be possible, critically aided by market incentives in Germany and some other countries. Broadening the product portfolio may be enabled further through the implementation of smart manufacturing concepts that combine the benefits of mass production with product customisation. An intermediate approach is to produce semi-manufactures in very large numbers and turning them into final products flexibly and on demand.
The development of photovoltaic and technology join forces to succeed
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Looking back at the development of wafer-based silicon technology in the past few decades and what may happen in the future, different stages can be distinguished. It is recommended to use the term "generation" for these stages. The characteristic of Gen1 devices is that their efficiency is limited by the external (determined by defects and impurities) quality of the absorbing material: the quality of crystalline silicon (expressed as minority carrier lifetime and diffusion length). Therefore, the strategy to improve efficiency is focused on improving the quality of materials. The key example is the replacement of polysilicon with high-performance polysilicon or single crystal silicon, but the shift from p-type silicon to n-type silicon also falls into this category. If the quality of the material is no longer the main limiting factor, then the quality of the surface and interface will become the main limiting factor. This problem is then solved by introducing thin films for advanced surface passivation, such as silicon hydride nitride (SiNx:H) or aluminum oxide (Al2O3), by passivating contact structures, such as ultra-thin silicon oxide (SiO2)]) , Or by using a heterojunction instead of a homojunction. Of course, for the sake of clarity, Gen1 and Gen2 cannot be separated strictly as here. In many cases, performance enhancement strategies address all aspects of bulk material quality and surface and interface quality at the same time or even in one process step. An example of the latter is the use of silicon hydride nitride anti-reflective coatings to provide surface passivation, but also passivation of bulk defects through hydrogen diffusion. Most of the current research and development work on crystalline silicon falls into these Gen1 and Gen2 categories.
With development, the future is an era of natural energy, and photovoltaics are an indispensable and important link. The development of photovoltaics is inevitable.
Sino Green New Energy Tech Co Ltd