10 Halsey Reed Road Monroe Township, New Jersey 08831
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The sun has produced energy for billions of years. Solar energy is the sun’s rays (solar radiation) that reach the Earth. This energy can be converted into other forms of energy, such as heat and electricity.
In the 1830s, the British astronomer John Herschel famously used a solar thermal collector box (a device that absorbs sunlight to collect heat) to cook food during an expedition to Africa. Today, people use the sun's energy for lots of things.
Our fire station uses technology called Solar Photovoltaic (PV).
A photovoltaic cell, commonly called a solar cell or PV, is the technology used to convert solar energy directly into electrical power. A photovoltaic cell is a non-mechanical device usually made from silicon alloys.
Sunlight is composed of photons, or particles of solar energy. These photons contain various amounts of energy corresponding to the different wavelengths of the solar spectrum.
When photons strike a photovoltaic cell, they may be reflected, pass right through, or be absorbed. Only the absorbed photons provide energy to generate electricity. When enough sunlight (energy) is absorbed by the material (a semiconductor), electrons are dislodged from the material's atoms. Special treatment of the material surface during manufacturing makes the front surface of the cell more receptive to free electrons, so the electrons naturally migrate to the surface.
When the electrons leave their position, holes are formed. When many electrons, each carrying a negative charge, travel toward the front surface of the cell, the resulting imbalance of charge between the cell's front and back surfaces creates a voltage potential like the negative and positive terminals of a battery. When the two surfaces are connected through an external load, such as an appliance, electricity flows.
The photovoltaic cell is the basic building block of a photovoltaic system. Individual cells can vary in size from about 0.5 inches to about 4 inches across. However, one cell only produces 1 or 2 watts, which isn't enough power for most applications.
To increase power output, cells are electrically connected into a packaged weather-tight module. Modules can be further connected to form an array. The term array refers to the entire generating plant, whether it is made up of one or several thousand modules. The number of modules connected together in an array depends on the amount of power output needed.
The performance of a photovoltaic array is dependent upon sunlight. Climate conditions (such as clouds or fog) have a significant effect on the amount of solar energy received by a photovoltaic array and, in turn, its performance. Most modern modules are about 10% efficient in converting sunlight. Further research is being conducted to raise this efficiency to 20%.
The success of PV in outer space first generated commercial applications for this technology. The simplest photovoltaic systems power many of the small calculators and wrist watches used every day. More complicated systems provide electricity to pump water, power communications equipment, and even provide electricity to our homes.
Some advantages of photovoltaic systems are:
Photovoltaic cells, like batteries, generate direct current (DC), which is generally used for small loads (electronic equipment). When DC from photovoltaic cells is used for commercial applications or sold to electric utilities using the electric grid, it must be converted to alternating current (AC) using inverters, solid state devices that convert DC power to AC.
The first practical photovoltaic (PV) cell was developed in 1954 by Bell Telephone researchers examining the sensitivity of a properly prepared silicon wafer to sunlight. Beginning in the late 1950s, PV cells were used to power U.S. space satellites. PV cells were next widely used for small consumer electronics like calculators and watches and to provide electricity in remote or "off-grid" locations were there were no electric power lines. Technology advances and government financial incentives have helped to greatly expand PV use since the mid-1990s.
Shipments of PV cells and panels by U.S. manufacturers in 2006 was the equivalent of about 337 Megawatts, about 25 times greater than the shipments of about 13 Megawatts in 1989. Since about 2004, most of the PV panels installed in the United States have been in "grid-connected" systems on homes, buildings, and central-station power facilities. There are now PV products available that can replace conventional roofing materials.