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Photonics Dictionary

photovoltaic cell

A photovoltaic cell, commonly known as a solar cell, is a semiconductor device that directly converts light energy into electrical energy through the photovoltaic effect. The photovoltaic effect is the generation of an electric current in a material upon exposure to light. Photovoltaic cells are the building blocks of solar panels and are widely used to generate electricity from sunlight.


Key features of photovoltaic cells include:

Semiconductor material: Photovoltaic cells are typically made from semiconductor materials such as silicon. Silicon is chosen for its ability to form a PN junction, a crucial component for the photovoltaic effect.

Photovoltaic effect: When photons (particles of light) strike the semiconductor material, they can excite electrons, causing them to move and create an electric current. The PN junction helps in separating the generated electrons and holes (electron vacancies), creating a potential difference and enabling the flow of electricity.

Solar panel: Photovoltaic cells are connected in series or parallel to form solar panels or solar modules. These panels are then used to capture sunlight and convert it into electrical power.


Direct current output: The electrical output of a photovoltaic cell is in the form of direct current (DC). In practical applications, such as powering homes or businesses, inverters are used to convert DC to alternating current (AC) for use in electrical systems.

Photovoltaic cells are a key technology in renewable energy systems, providing a clean and sustainable source of electricity. They are used in a variety of applications, from small-scale devices like calculators and watches to large-scale solar power plants. Advances in photovoltaic technology continue to improve efficiency and reduce costs, contributing to the widespread adoption of solar energy around the world.
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