Solar Electric (PV) Technology


Photovoltaics (PV for short) is the technology that converts light directly into electricity. It all starts with the basic solar cell that may be made from many different materials. The most popular material is silicon. There are many processes that may be used (See our article on Solar Cells) and substantial development work is in process worldwide on methods that increase efficiency (higher rate of conversion of sunlight), reduce costs, and increase the lifetime of the solar cells.
A single solar cell is not very useful, the voltage is low and the solar cell can easily be damaged by the environment. See our article on Fundamentals of Photovoltaic Systems for further details on making solar cells into useful items.
A major feature of photovoltaic systems is the ability to produce electrical energy without any need for fuels or causing polution. The costs of the produced energy are hard to quantify as most of the costs are up front capital costs and the amount of energy produced depends on the site weather and several installation design elements.
How to Use Photovoltaic Technology
The practical use of photovoltaic technology ranges from very small to very large and close to home and far away.
PV Intro 1
There are many reasons to use photovoltaic technology to meet energy needs. The technology is scalable from very small (watches) to very large (utility scale plants covering square miles), allowing unique needs to be met and improving the environment when compared to conventional sources of energy. There are many benefits from financial to environmental, see our article on Environmental Benefits of Renewable Energy.
A good introduction to residential PV systems is our article Path to Solar.  It covers a wide range of PV implementation information.  See also: Should you install solar on your home? 10 key considerationsConsiderations in sizing a PV system in Arizona and Questions to Ask before Purchasing a Solar System.
Educational & Commercial PV Systems
(coming soon)
Some Historical information
Over the decades there have news articles on improved technologies for producing solar cells.  Most of these, even if backed by a major technology company, have not made it in the marketplace.  Here is an example: False Technology Start- Spheral Solar Power plant in Canada
Some nice to know information
(more coming soon)
More Technical Information
For a more technical introduction to small utility connected PV systems, the interactive PV-Explore presentation presents some details.  This is slightly dated (2012 state of the art), but describes some of the components.  At present it is not integrated with the rest of this website, use your back arrow to return to this page. PV-Explore- Understanding and Troubleshooting Grid Connected PV systems.
There is a good general technical article on Engineering.com that is worth a review: Challenges of Making Solar Energy Economical
How long do rooftop residential solar panels last? See this article at pv magazine
Batteries and PV Systems
Government & Legal Information



For more information, follow the topics below.

Some interesting uses of PV:


1.      National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 2012. Renewable Electricity Futures Study. Volume 1, pg. 210.

2      Machol, Rizk. 2013. Economic value of U.S. fossil fuel electricity health impacts. Environment International 52 75–80.

3      Environmental Protection Agency. 2010. Assessing the Multiple Benefits of Clean Energy: A Resource for States. Chapter 5.

In Hot Water - Experiences of Solar Hot Water in Arizona

Summary of Presentation given at the World Renewable Energy Forum (WREF)/ASES Conference in Denver, CO in  May 2012
(Full presentation is available for download below.)

During a utility (APS and SRP) funded 2010 Pilot Study to assess SDHW installations for assuring compliance for RECs, it was determined that there was an extremely high rate of failure in meeting basic national guidelines (SRCC), and now with over thousands of audits executed since the Pilot study, there is critical information that needs to be shared with the various solar arenas in Arizona - utilities; governmental code and inspections departments; State licensing agencies; the solar equipment industry; and the design and construction industry; as well as outside Arizona - the nationally growing trade education element; utilities; state and local governmental agencies; and trade organizations in other states.

With the implementation of permanent programs by both Salt River Project (SRP) and Arizona Public Service (APS), the AzSC, acting as a 3rd party neutral resource, has executed over 3000 audits. The findings of this effort are significant, not only for Arizona but also for the larger community - nationally and possibly internationally - for both the solar industry and for the consumer.

The Forum established by the AzSC is intended to share Arizona's experience in various contexts with participation of Daniel Peter Aiello and Geoff Sutton of the AzSC, and Joel Dickinson of Salt River Project. The presentation describes lessons learned, and significant issues discovered that impact the ongoing viability of this technology for government, industry, and the consumer.

The presentation comes from different contexts:

  • The utility experience and viewpoint of lessons learned, issues discovered, and actions taken (and planned) within the context of meeting utility incentives programs requirements.
  • Lessons learned in the trenches, and issues found in the quality of work and industry practice.
  • Conditions and issues involved with the numerous "players" in this arena including the utilities, and those outside the utility context - Registrar of Contractors (ROC), solar equipment organizations and trade associations, building departments and the inspections systems, and the design/construction community.

Full presentation available for download here (7.97 MB PDF).

Handbook of Secondary Storage Batteries and Charge Regulators in Photovoltaic Systems

Photo courtesy NREL

Solar photovoltaic systems often require battery subsystems to store reserve electrical energy for times of zero insolation. This handbook is designed to help the system designer make optimum choices of battery type, battery size and charge control circuits. Handbook of Secondary Storage Batteries and Charge Regulators in PV Systems.

NOTE: All files are PDF format

Complete Handbook (4,337kb)

The following files are divided into sections for easier viewing and download if necessary:

Prepared by: Exide Management and Technology Company, 19 West College Avenue, P.O. Box 336 Yardley, Pennsylvania 19067. Work Performed for The U.S. Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185 Under Contract No. 13-2202. Originally Printed August 1981; Updated 2003 by AzSC Board Members Lane Garrett and Bill Kaszeta.