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Can renewable energy sources power the world?
Can renewable energy sources power the world?

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Week 3: Solar photovoltaics

Introduction

In Week 2 you saw how solar energy can be used to generate electricity by producing high-temperature heat to power an engine, which then produces mechanical work to drive an electrical generator.

This week is concerned with a more direct method of generating electricity from solar radiation, namely solar photovoltaics: the conversion of solar energy directly into electricity, using a solid-state device.

The term ‘photovoltaic’ is derived by combining the Greek word for light, photos, with volt, the name of the unit of potential difference (i.e. voltage) in an electrical circuit.

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By the end of this week, you will be able to:

  • describe at an introductory level the range of different photovoltaic technologies, their essential characteristics, their differences and similarities, advantages and disadvantages
  • understand at an introductory level the main characteristics of energy systems using photovoltaic modules and the different types of system that are employed for different applications
  • be aware of the basic economic and environmental factors relevant to the use of photovoltaic system.