Photovoltaics History & Systems

It was a French physicist named Edward Bequerel, in 1839, who is credited with discovering that some materials when exposed to light released energy which potentially could be harnessed. This discovery eventually developed into photovoltaics. Photovoltaics is the process of generating electrical power by capturing and converting sunlight into direct current electricity.
Many scientists in the past have experimented with the sun’s light energy. The most notable of these being Albert Einstein who won a Nobel Prize for his work that is called the photoelectric effect. The photoelectric effect is the emission of electrons or other free carriers when electromagnetic radiation, like light, hits a material.

It was not until the 1950,s that the first solar battery was developed. Subsequently, the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that initiated fitting space satellites with photovoltaic cells. The cost of producing solar based equipment began to lower and in the 1970’s solar panels began appearing on a few homes.

Since then, the global energy crisis coupled with increased environmental pressure to produce and consume clean energy with no greenhouse gas emissions resulted in solar coming to the forefront as a reliable clean energy. Massive investment in this technology and government financial incentives in many countries at the federal, state and local levels has resulted in a growing number of homes installing and using solar energy to power their homes and heat their water.

Advancements in technology are certain to continue, so we will see photovoltaic equipment become increasingly efficient and less expensive.

There are three types of photovoltaic systems, and depending on your requirements they can vary significantly in terms of cost and performance. There are stand alone, grid tied, and remote battery powered systems.

Stand alone systems produce power only when the sun is shining. Therefore, the power they generate can only be used sporadically and energy cannot be stored and used later when required. Most people want power and heat in their homes 24/7, so stand alone systems may not be appropriate in this case.

Grid tied systems use solar energy when the sun is shining too. However, in the event that the sun does not shine and no power is generated, power is supplied from the grid.

Remote battery powered systems can often be a good choice for most people because the energy produced by the system is stored in batteries that can be used at any time. There is even the possibility to resell the power back to the grid. The optimal system would be a combination of these three systems.

How should photovoltaic systems be set up and installed?

Your setup would depend on your location in the world. Here are some hints on how the equipment should be set up and maintained. The solar panels should be south facing for those in the Northern Hemisphere, and while typically the photovoltaic equipment is often installed on rooftops, they can also be installed on the ground, and in some cases on walls.

Solar Panels

Battery Backup


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