Photovoltaic cells or more commonly known as PV solar panels are panels that convert solar radiation or sunlight into direct current electricity by using semiconductors. There are some great advantages to using photovoltaic power, as it is renewable and the total amount of energy that reaches the earth from the sun is plentiful. Research on the photovoltaic panel has been increasing in recent years, and in fact there have been many changes to the way they are made. There are many reasons for photovoltaic power to be used exclusively in the future.
Currently the country leading the way in photovoltaic energy production is Germany, but with climbing energy prices, many countries are soon to follow with incentives to use this renewable energy source. Investors in the United States began offering free installation in 2006 in return for an agreement with the owner to sell the investor back the power generated at a fixed rate for the next 25 years. This has been a major driving force and the more popular they get, the cheaper the systems become.
The benefits of using this renewable energy source are many, but the biggest factor by far is the sheer quantity of energy that hits the earth as light. There is approximately 89,000 terawatts (TW) of power constantly beaming down on the earth at any given time. The terawatt is equal to one trillion (1012) watts. The total power used by humans worldwide (about 16 TW in 2006) is commonly measured in this unit. We would have absolutely no problem sustaining all of human kind on this kind of power for many years to come. Solar electrical generation has the highest power density of any renewable energy source. Solar power plants also require little unskilled maintenance to maintain, which is significantly lower for operating costs.
The most common solar cell found today is very inefficient. However, some breakthroughs have happened that will have an impact on the future of photovoltaic technology. The average photovoltaic cell today only captures about 12 to 18% of the total energy that actually hits the cell. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the United States has manufactured photovoltaic cells that are up to 43.5% efficient. Boing and Sharp have also developed photovoltaic cells that are 40% and 35% efficient respectively. The main obstacle that hinders the adoption of photovoltaic power is that the sun does not shine every day, yet the sun does shine every day “somewhere”. The future of photovoltaic power will depend on reliable networks of power plants. Further into the future, there is limitless energy available in space for photovoltaic power plants. The challenge is the cost of getting them into space.
As photovoltaic power grows in popularity it will become affordable for everyone. It will happen sooner or later, depending on certain catalysts like government incentives and/or private investment. The sheer quantity of power available from the sun is undeniable. The technology for these photovoltaic systems is improving rapidly and is only in its early stages of development.