Photovoltaic Systems 101
Photovoltaic systems use cells, modules, and arrays to capture sunlight and convert it into electrical energy. PV systems are modular in nature, meaning that basic building blocks of smaller components and subsystems are integrated to construct larger systems. Individual cells are combined to make modules. Modules are then combined to achieve the desired system voltage and power output, forming an array.
The PV Cell. The “PV” cell is the basic component of a solar electric system. The term “Photovoltaic” can easily be broken down into 2 simple words that describe the technology: “Photo” for light, and “voltaic” for voltage or electricity. Together the word basically represents “light-electricity”. Silicon is the primary raw material for producing PV cells. PV cells use many of the same processing and manufacturing techniques as other semiconductor devices, such as computer chips, so the supply chain is well established. However, the two industries compete for the same supply of processed silicone and the combined demand has continued to put pressure on the supply.
The PV Module. Although a PV cell is the basic device that converts sunlight into electricity, it is not practically useful in this form. Individual cells produce minimum amounts of power, so they must be connected together to create a significant amount of power. The module is also designed to protect the individual cells from dirt and moisture. Each individual module is a PV device consisting of a number of individual cells connected electrically, laminated, encapsulated, and packaged into a frame that can be mechanically installed into a PV system.
The PV Array. A complete PV power-generating unit consisting of a number of individual, electronically and mechanically integrated modules with structural supports.