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What are photovoltaics and how do they operate?

Photovoltaics were earlier deployed to generate power for satellites and other spacecraft, but are best known today for their application in power generation for homes, business establishments, and large-scale utilities. Photovoltaic cells, also known as solar cells, absorb photons from sunlight and convert them into electrons which is basically DC electricity. Photovoltaic modules are huge rectangular tablets grouping multiple solar cells together to perform this conversion and send the DC electricity to the inverter that is responsible for transforming the direct current into alternating current so that the energy becomes usable for the property. Photovoltaic panels can be assembled into arrays of any size to generate different amounts of electricity for different applications. 

PV cells are made of semiconductor material that absorbs the photons from sunlight. Photons, which are particles of the sun’s energy, hit the solar cells but not all are converted into electricity as some pass through the cell and some are reflected back from the cell. Only the ones that are absorbed by the cells are used for conversion. The module surface is manufactured such that photovoltaic cells can be more receptive to sunlight absorption. The more advanced the PV cell technology, the higher the efficiency of the PV system. Efficient solar panels that were produced about 40 years ago, only offered a 10% conversion efficiency which increased to 15% about a decade ago. With more advancements in PV cell technology now, the latest PV panels on the market offer about 20% conversion efficiency while PV cells for satellites have reached 50% efficiency!

Photovoltaic cells come in different sizes ranging from about 0.5 to 4 inches. A single PV cell can generate up to two watts of electricity which can power a small device like a calculator. PV cells are packed together on a weather-resistant panel. The PV panels can be of different sizes and capacities. Panel capacity refers to the amount (wattage) of electricity it can generate. A solar panel that has more cells, can produce more electricity than a panel that has fewer PV cells. PV panels are grouped together to form an array. Any number of panels can be included in an array to achieve the desired electricity output. The more the number of PV panels, the more power the array can produce.

To generate the maximum output in their capacity, efficient solar panels need to be placed directly facing the sun. Since Australia lies in the southern hemisphere, PV modules directly facing the north at a tilt angle of around 26 degrees are the happiest and yield the best economic benefits.

Photovoltaics Vs Power Grid

Photovoltaic systems are more versatile and dynamic when compared to the conventional grid power distribution system in many ways. Solar installations in Australia can be of any size according to the needs of the application. The smallest use of a photovoltaic system can be seen in a wristwatch or a calculator. Efficient solar panels can be used to power individual homes and businesses and large-scale PV systems can be established to supply energy to thousands of end users. There are various advantages to photovoltaic solar installations in Australia over the electric grid system such as:

  • Photovoltaic systems of any size and capacity can be installed much more easily and quickly as compared to a grid electricity connection (especially in a faraway place where the installation of electric poles and cabling will need a long time).
  • Remote locations that do not have access to the power grid, where electric lines don’t exist, can benefit from a photovoltaic solar installation in Australia that will provide clean energy for years.

PV systems love the environment and do not hurt it with harmful emissions.


Photovoltaic technology is a boon to the world today that wants a healthy planet for future generations. As PV technology has advanced over the years, it has also become increasingly accessible and affordable for most people around the globe. It helps us avail the advantages of the free, abundant, and continual supply of the sun’s energy.

Do not delay your plans to turn to solar and start saving today. We at Austra Solar would love to assist you with the best solar advice. Get in touch for a free quote!

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