What is Photovoltaic?

3D illustration of a close-up of a Solar Panel (photovoltaic panel) with the reflection of a blue sky with clouds and sun rays

When answering the question “What is photovoltaic,” many distinct possibilities arise. One could be asking the question because they are curious about how solar companies transform sunlight into energy. Or, they may be inquiring about the word itself and where it traces its origins. But, there is also the possibility that they are interested in the photovoltaic effect itself and wish to learn more about the mechanics behind the technology.

In answering any one of these questions exhaustively, we would be removing the opportunity to discuss the others in any capacity. Instead, we believe it is best to give a brief overview of each of these questions to answer as many questions as possible. From solar companies to solar cells, join us as we look into just what photovoltaic really is.

The Etymology of Photovoltaic

The word photovoltaic is a combination of two different terms. The first part of the word, photo, comes all the way from ancient Greece. The original word is phos, meaning light. The second half of the word, volt, comes from the unit of electromotive force. This was named after the inventor of the battery, Alessandro Volta. 

What are Photovoltaics?

Photovoltaics are the name for cells and systems that convert light into electricity via the photovoltaic effect. The cells are usually quite dark to absorb multiple wavelengths of light.

What is the Photovoltaic Effect?

The photovoltaic effect is the generation of voltage and electric current. It is both physical and chemical in nature and closely mirrors the photoelectric effect, except that it retains the excited electron rather than letting it leave the material.

The photovoltaic effect was first demonstrated by Edmond Becquerel in 1839. In fact, some refer to the photovoltaic effect as the Becquerel effect due to his influence on the technology. He was the first person able to make a photovoltaic cell at the young age of 19 years old. Now his legacy continues with the Becquerel Prize, which is an award for outstanding merit in photovoltaics.

The Advancement of Photovoltaics as a Technology

Photovoltaics reside in a strange space as far as technological advancements are concerned. They become more efficient year after year, and the price continues to drop in areas where there is abundant solar potential. This should make them appealing to investors and entrepreneurs alike.

Unfortunately, due to the heavy lobbying, campaigning and advertising of competing energy producers, solar companies and photovoltaics are a bit of a hot-button issue. Many believe that they are a clear path towards a future of renewable energy and not a fifth mass extinction event. But those who oppose such innovation believe that it is better to stay with the established norms and eke out whatever small amount of profit they can.

So, when it comes to answering the question “what is photovoltaic,” there are many different answers, but there are also many different interpretations of what they are and what they represent. Still, it is certainly a potentially great avenue towards a bright and cleaner future. Now we just need to find out if solar companies will be able to make a difference before it is too late.

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