Solar photovoltaics is the field of research and technology related to the use of solar panels as an energy source. In solar photovoltaics (PV) systems, consisting of groups of solar cells in solar panels, sunlight is converted to electricity. Solar energy can therefore be used as an alternative energy to fossil fuels, nuclear power, and other energy sources.
Solar power has become a popular energy source for a number of reasons. Unlike fossil fuels, solar energy is renewable, and it has the highest power density of renewable energy sources. Solar power systems do not create any pollution during their use, though a small, manageable, amount is created during production of the systems. In addition, solar photovoltaics systems are very low-cost to run, and are ideal for places in which it is difficult to obtain fuel, or to set up a traditional power grid, such as remote island communities.
In recent decades, solar photovoltaics has become a very important field, as demand for efficient solar power systems has grown. Solar PV systems offer a number of advantages over other energy sources, but they also present several problems, which researchers in the field of solar photovoltaics are working to solve.
One of the major research goals of solar photovoltaics is the creation of more efficient solar systems. Currently, there is a great deal of energy loss in solar systems, so that most operate below 20% efficiency. One of the problems leading to this energy loss is the fact that solar cells produce direct current (DC) power, which must be converted to alternating current (AC) for use in modern electrical systems. Another obstacle related to the low efficiency of most modern PV systems is the huge area required in order for a solar power plant to produce enough electricity for a large metropolitan area. Many cities simply do not have enough land available for a solar power plant using current technologies.
Solar photovoltaics systems also continue to struggle with the fact that they cannot produce energy during the night, or in cloudy weather. Some of the newest solar cells now include germanium, which allows the generation of power during the night from infrared radiation. Thus there is hope a practicalbe solution to this problem eventually.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that solar photovoltaics engineers seek to solve, however, is the high cost of PV systems. Though PV systems are very cheap to run, their initial manufacture and installation are much more expensive than those of traditional power systems. Cheaper, more efficient solar power would encourage more people and nations to implement them, resulting in lower pollution levels and more renewable power worldwide.